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Dien Cai Dau-Book Analysis

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Losing Ones Identity Through HardshipsThe poetry involved in Yusef Komunyakaas Dien Cai Dau is about the hardships of the Vietnamese War. It involves the experiences of both black and white soldiers as well the Vietnamese people. The experiences that the soldiers had in wartime are expressed through the feelings of war. These elements convey the loss of individuality of the soldiers. The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell, conveys the idea of lost identity through the sacrifice of oneself for the good of the whole. Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night by Walt Whitman is another war poem that expresses the loss of individuality through the loss of a loved one. The poem embraces the importance of friendship and how losing someone so close to you could lead to ones mental loss of identity. Like the poem by Whitman, The Lost Pilot by James Tate shows the lost identity through his father that he lost in a plane crash. Although the poets use different experiences that the people had in life, through imagery they are able to reveal the lost identity.

Yusef Komunyakaas experience in the Vietnamese war is expressed through the feelings and the incidents faced by soldiers in the war zone. The soldiers fighting in the war did not have any choice but to fight for their own country. Throughout the book, the soldiers had to camouflage themselves in order to live. The first poem of the book, Camouflaging the Chimera, sets the tone of the whole book by pointing out how the soldiers are camouflaging in order to hide from the enemy. The poet talks about how they were getting prepared by [tying] branches to [their] helmets (Komunyakaa 1: 3). As they are hide from the enemies, they feel invisible which conveys the feeling of lost identity. When they feel invisible, they start to interact with creatures that do not exist leading them to uncertainty. The soldiers start to slow-drag with ghosts (Komunyakaa 10: 3). This line indicates that through the fierce conditions they face, the soldiers start not to feel like themselves and imagine their selves dancing with ghosts. The image of soldiers dancing with their ghosts is a good gage of their state of mind. In A Greenness Taller Than Gods, the poet talks about how the soldiers moved like a platoon of silhouettes, meaning that they were invisible and how they all moved at once (Komunyakaa 19:11). Their individuality was lost since they acted as one. The poets word choice, silhouettes, conveys the idea of soldiers that appear without the inner soul. They have lost so much of their selves to the war that they are just have their body representing them. The soldiers are so worried not to be seen that they are unaware [that their] shadows untied from [them], wandered off & got lost (Komunyakaa 20-22: 11). Even though the words here do not have such strong imagery, they are able to portray the idea of the soldiers losing their identity. The words wandered and lost here show how much the soldiers do not care about their identity anymore. It is like they are not putting any more effort into trying to be themselves.

Komunyakaa is able to describe the idea of the lost identity through the different faces of war. In Re-Creating the Scene, Komunyakaa portrays three soldiers raping a woman with a baby in her hand. Normally soldiers have dignity but after losing themselves to the war, they start to rape an innocent woman. The soldiers have lost self-respect because they hold her down with their eyes, taking turns (Komunyakaa 23:19). The men are so desperate for intimacy that they cross their own borders, leaving their old identity behind and raping the woman. The other perspective of the lost identity is the woman that is being raped. After the woman is raped she is left with a dishonored identity because she is piling stones on her fathers grave (Komunyakaa 24-25:19). The lady that is being raped is also disgracing her fathers dignity.

The loss of the inner self can also mean losing your identity. In the Jungle Surrender the wait behind the trees has forced the soldiers to be trapped in a place that they did not want to be (Komunyakaa 3:37). This constant wait for the enemy and fear of their life causes the soldiers to face an inner turmoil. [They] wrestle through a hallucination of blues in which they try to divert their thoughts. Here the word hallucination gives the image of soldiers that are not in the right state of mind. They are so desperate for things other than war that they hallucinate.

The experience that the soldiers face enables them to discover their inner selves where the real interrogator is a voice within meaning that the soldiers start to question themselves about their fears and their future (Komunyakaa 19:37). This constant questioning adds on to the soldiers to lose their identity because they are not sure of their actions. The soldiers in Vietnam face different events each day. These events lead to the loss of identity because when one is faced with death, other events lose its significance. The poem To Have Danced with Death, talks about the sergeant who is not afraid of anything. The poet mentions the silver-gray coffins [that] rolled out on silent chrome coasters, which should have awakened some feelings to the sergeant but instead he just stood there like a bleak & soundless bell (Komunyakaa 5,6,27: 46). The poet points out the idea of many coffins just rolling out of the coasters. He then talks about how the sergeant who should feel pain, because he has lost so much of his comrades, just stares at the coffins like a bell that makes no sound.

Also in the poem Somewhere Near Phu Bai Komunyakaa is able to show the loss of identity through the image of fear. This poem talks about a soldier who is undercover, watching the enemy lines. He is vigilant to anything that might happen. People living in such undesirable conditions start to doubt themselves: If I hear a noise will I push the button & blow myself away? (Komunyakaa 20-22:7). As seen from this quote under such pressure the soldiers try to take the short way out. The questioning is a sign of losing ones identity because the soldier started to think of suicide. He has lost his will of trying to stay alive and fight for his own country.

Komunyakaa portrays the loss of identity through the soldiers own feelings of the Vietnamese War; whereas, in Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night the poet, Walt Whitman, portrays the loss of identity through the loss of a comrade and a soldier. Whitman starts by describing the bond between the two soldiers. The poet mentions the dying soldiers eyes, he talks about how one look [he] gave. reachd up to him (Whitman 3-4: 214). The detailed description of the soldier preparing his friend for his grave shows how much he cared for him, when he lost him, it was like losing a piece of himself. Like Komunyakaa, Whitman describes the loss of identity through the hardships faced by a soldier. Even though Whitman focuses more on the relationship between the soldiers rather than the war scene itself, the reader has an image of the war zone with the sense of the lost identity.

Another poet, Randall Jarrell, portrays the loss of identity through the war zone. Unlike Komunyakaas style of re-creating the war zone and Whitmans style of portraying the fatherly relationship between the soldiers, Randall talks about the vulnerability, sense of duty, and the hardships of a soldier. In The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, all these feelings of war lead to the loss of the identity for the good of the whole. On the aircraft in World War II the most vulnerable place for a soldier to be is the turret gunners place. Here the soldier gave up his identity in order to help serve his country better. In the end when [he] died, they washed [him] out of the turret with a hose (Jarrell 5:551) meaning that he was just another insignificant person who died for his country. Like Komunyakaa, Jarrell is able to show the lost identity from the feelings of the soldier himself.

In Tates poem, The Lost Pilot, he talks about the death of his father in a plane crash. First the poet talks about the co-pilot. Tate mentions the body that is about to compose soon. This imagery of the composition of the body conveys the idea of the lost identity. When the body dies, the identity dies with it. Though in the poets fathers case the identity does not disappear immediately. The poet mentions how his fathers body grew dark, and hard like ebony (Tate 10-11:723). There is a difference between images of the co-pilot and the father itself because the co-pilots body has started to compose whereas the fathers body is still fighting back. This imagery of the dead bodies shows the two different identities that are being lost. It feels like the co-pilot did not have anything to fight for and gave up therefore his body just composed. In the pilots case, the identity that is being lost is a father that sees his son as a residue in his life. This image of the residue shows how a part the son lost a part of his identity, he says: I feel dead (Tate 37:724)The experiences that the people have in life usually result in the formation of ones identity. The influences from these experiences can have either a negative or a positive affect. From the poems above, one can see that the experiences that both the soldiers and the humans have had a negative affect on them. Because of these different situations, the people lost their identity. Komunyakaa shows the lost identity of the soldiers through the hardships that they face in the Vietnamese War. Although both Whitman and Jarrell convey the idea of war leading to the loss of identity, they show this loss through the different channels of life. In Whitmans poem he shows this loss by talking about the loss of a comrade whereas Jarrell shows this loss by mentioning the unimportance of the lives lost in war. In Tates poem, the imagery helps the reader see the connection between the father and son and how the loss his father is like losing a part of his own identity. One can see that different experiences in life can result in the loss of identity of oneself.

Works CitedJarrell, Randall Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. 1st ed. Ed. Jay Parini. Columbia University Press, 1995. 551Komunyakaa, Yusef. Dien Cai Dau. Connecticut: Wesleyan Poetry, 1988.

Tate, James The Lost Pilot. The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. 1st ed. Ed. Jay Parini. Columbia University Press, 1995. 723-724Whitman, Walt Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night. The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. 1st ed. Ed. Jay Parini. Columbia University Press, 1995. 214-215

Cited: arrell, Randall Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. 1st ed. Ed. Jay Parini. Columbia University Press, 1995. 551Komunyakaa, Yusef. Dien Cai Dau. Connecticut: Wesleyan Poetry, 1988. Tate, James The Lost Pilot. The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. 1st ed. Ed. Jay Parini. Columbia University Press, 1995. 723-724Whitman, Walt Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night. The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. 1st ed. Ed. Jay Parini. Columbia University Press, 1995. 214-215

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