Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien Essay

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Going After Cacciato It is generally recognized that Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato (1978) is most likely the best novel of the Vietnam war, albeit an unusual one in that it innovatively combines the experiential realism of war with surrealism, primarily through the overactive imagination of the protagonist, Spec Four Paul Berlin. The first chapter of this novel is of more than usual importance. Designed to be a self-sufficient story (McCaffery 137) and often anthologized as one, this chapter is crucial to the novel in that it not only introduces us to the characters and the situation but also sets the tenor of the novel and reveals its author’s view of this war in relation to which all else in the novel must be …show more content…
One thing that the book misses, however, is the same suffering, perhaps even worse, that was imposed upon the Vietnamese people. This is typical of novels from this time; they all exhibit a bold ethnocentricism (Lomperis 5).

However, the first chapter does contain one very powerful image of destruction from the Vietnamese viewpoint, which helps to make this somber portrait of the Vietnam War more complete. We are told that Berlin and his squad are taking refuge inside a nearly ruined Buddhist pagoda: ...in shadows was the cross-legged Buddha, smiling from its elevated stone perch. The pagoda was cold. Dank from a month of rain, the place smelled of clays and silicates and dope and old incense. It was a single square room built like a pillbox with stone walls and a flat ceiling that forced the men to stoop or kneel. Once it might have been a fine house of worship, but now it was junk. Sandbags blocked the windows. Bits of broken pottery lay under chipped pedestals. The buddha’s right arm was missing, but the smile was intact. Head cocked, the statue seemed interested in the lieutenant’s long sigh. (O’Brien 4) In this otherwise very American novel, which focuses on the American soldiers’ experiences, feelings, and minds (Lomperis 63), and in which Vietnam is presented primarily as merely a terrain and a climate, this image of the pagoda seems to be symbolic of the country of Vietnam at this time. Invaded, desecrated, nearly destroyed, it still endured,