Search and Clear: Critical Responses to Selected Literature and Films of the Vietnam War

Search and Clear: Critical Responses to Selected Literature and Films of the Vietnam War

Search and Clear: Critical Responses to Selected Literature and Films of the Vietnam War

Search and Clear: Critical Responses to Selected Literature and Films of the Vietnam War

Synopsis

Search and Clear demonstrates that the seeds of war were implicit in American culture, distinguishes between literature spawned by Vietnam and that of other conflicts, reviews the literary merits of works both well and little known, and explores the assumptions behind and the persistence of stereotypes associated with the consequences of the Vietnam War. It examines the role of women in fiction, the importance of gender in Vietnam representation, and the mythic patterns in Oliver Stone's Platoon. Essayists sharply scrutinize American values, conduct, and conscience as they are revealed in the craft of Tim O'Brien, Philip Caputo, Michael Herr, Stephen Wright, David Rabe, Bruce Weigl, and others.

Excerpt

William J. Searle

In Tim O'Brien's now-lionized Going After Cacciato, Captain Fahyi Rhallon voices an enduring truth " 'that after a battle each soldier will have different stories to tell, vastly different stories, and that when a war is ended it is as if there have been a million wars, or as many wars as there are soldiers' " (197-98). The compelling motivation behind such tales is suggested by Michael Herr who says of infantrymen in Vietnam, "All had a story, and in the war they were driven to tell it" (Dispatches 29). Ward Just in his criticism of the Russian Roulette metaphor in The Deer Hunter is more graphic: "In Vietnam there is no lack of facts or images, emotions or metaphors, to choose from. You don't have to reach for them; if they're right, they reach for you. They are inescapable, fingers around your throat" ("Vietnam: The Camera lies" 65).

Captured by their stories, prisoners of war, so to speak, those who convey the experience most tellingly are frequently those who were most immersed in it, veterans all, even those who did not wear a uniform. Given the passion, the special poignance, the concrete grittiness, and the ethical implications of much of Vietnam War literature, the words of Peter Marin concerning the survivors of that war could apply to many who have written about it: "But the nature of the war, and the fact and the feel of it—the conflicts and private struggles of conscience, the horrors that exist simultaneously outside and inside a man—all of these belong to the vets, for who else has it in their power to keep us straight, and who else has the knowledge required to do it?" ("Coming to Terms with Vietnam" 55). Imaginative literature of the Vietnam War—plays, novels, nonfiction narratives, poems, screenplays—can render the maze and lead us through it. "It is," James Chace has recently noted, " 'The most important literature being written right now' " ( "Reading the Wind" 8).

While a great deal of Vietnam War literature is currently in print, and new novels and memoirs continue to replenish the market, the publishing industry, perhaps reflecting public interest, was not always so receptive. Martin J. Naparsteck, writing in 1979, mentions two "insurmountable obstacles" to the publication of manuscripts about . . .

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