There always exists a time when war is present in our lives and one must act with honor to do what is needed to survive and live together as a nation. The human instinct to survive and build confidence is instilled in individuals within the daunting atmosphere of combat; where inherently good people are asked to kill other entities. However, the effects that come with the act of war are inevitable and one must struggle with the predicament of keeping one’s sanity intact. Humans are inherently good until thrown to the darkness and dysfunctional effects of war. Similarly, In Tim O’Brien’s “Song of the Tra Bong”, a story about how a young man from the Vietnam War pays to have his significant other sent to his station unfolds as a dramatic turn for the worse. The young man, Mark Fossie, deals with the pain of seeing his significant other, Mary Anne, animate a drastic transformation to the ultimate obscurity and frightening notion of war. At first glance, one may have the impression that O’Brien’s short story might shroud the idea of love and relationships, but underneath the surface, Tim O’Brien paints a grim picture of the effects of war on human nature and how it can distance humans from moral and emotional anchors, both physically and psychologically, and perhaps result in the loss of innocence.
As O’Brien’s image comes to life, Mary Anne faces two large alterations associated with the war: the physical and the psychological. Physically, Mary Anne is the symbol of the Vietnam War and everything that it represents. As she came into contact with the war, she could not help but get engaged by it and engulfed with the idea of protecting herself as well as engaging in combat. She shies away from the innocent, bubbly, and outgoing self to a more confident, darker, and vicious character. It is evidenced by Riley’s, the narrator, statement, “In times of actions her face took on a sudden new composure, almost serene, the fuzzy blue eyes narrowing into a tight, intelligent focus…a different person” (O’Brien 5); her face changed from the strawberry ice cream-like complexion to that of a “tight” and tough character. Her freshly found “serene” composure represents the tranquility of Vietnam with its exotic butterflies, waterfalls, and elephant grass. Her “tight” and “intelligent” focus is the representation of her fresh attained abilities as a predator; the tight and intelligent focus of a predator to go after their prey without the emotions to affect her ability to perform and think clearly and instill fear, just as Vietnam is symbolically a predator who either devours the tranquil minds or implants fear to those who inhabit it. Her “different” person is the representation of her alienated self; she becomes foreign to America as the war itself. She is invigorated and empowered by war: its influence stimulates her to make plans for the future, no longer wanting to be a house wife alongside her sweetheart, Mark Fossie. She begins to navigate her path away from the life she once deemed desirable. The warfare Mary Anne witnessed had now taken a toll on her external self; she embodies the physical appearance of Vietnam.
Psychologically, however, Mary Anne embodies the personality of an animalistic creature who knows how to feed fear and has no moral conduct. She only knew to instinctually kill someone without mercy or evoking any kind of emotional display towards her victim. Vietnam had the influence of a potent drug that turned her into the vicious animal that she is and is evidenced by what Riley stated, “‘Vietnam had the effect of a powerful drug: that mix of unnamed terror and unnamed pleasure that comes as the needle slips in and you know you’re risking something. The endorphins start to flow, and the adrenaline, and you hold your breath and creep quietly through the moonlight nightscapes’ ” (O’Brien 15). Mary Anne was lost insider herself as she let Vietnam engulf her and smiled at the idea of...
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