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    The Story of Sweetheart of the Song of Tra Bong: T Essay

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    he Use of SettingWhere does the story of Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong take place?Upon reading the story, one would first assume that it takes place in Vietnam.

    Upon further examination, however, it becomes quite evident that it really takesplace inside Rat Kiley’s head. This isn’t to declare the story false; instead,one should examine the influence and literary freedom that Rat flexes upon thetruth. “For Rat Kiley facts were formed by sensation, not the other wayaround. ” (101) The story occurs in two separate but equally chaotic places:Vietnam, and Rat’s head. The story intertwines between the two settings, and inorder to completely grasp the idea behind them, one must first recognize, thenseparate and analyze the two settings.

    Upon the first reading of this work, the reader finds himself droppinginto the story of a seemingly misplaced girl in Vietnam. The role of Rat Kileyseems somewhat minor and irrelevant. Upon the second and third times through,however, his role as the storyteller stands out. It becomes more evident thathe holds Mary Anne with the highest regard. He romanticizes her relationshipwith the war.

    He is so amazed with the fact that a girl can be seduced by thelure of the wilderness that he begins to talk about her with the listeners as ifshe were the attractive girl from school that everyone knows but nobody dates. ” ‘You knowI loved her. Mary Anne made you think about those girls back home,how clean and innocent they all are. ‘ ” (123) Rat is pushing his views uponthe listener.

    He is shaping how the story is seen. The reader sees “triple-canopied jungle, mountains unfolding into higher mountains, ravines and gorgesand fast-moving rivers and waterfalls and exotic butterflies and steep cliffsand smoky little hamlets and great valleys of bamboo and elephant grass. ” (103)The actual reality of the situation is added by the narrator, as extrapolatedfrom Rat: that they were in an almost completely indefensible situation. Hadsomebody cared enough to take control of the little base, there would be noresistance.

    Rat wanted to let the reader know his opinion on the citizens ofthe Viet Cong, how he wants the listener to think of them. “Mary Anne asked,’They’re human beings, aren’t they? Like everybody else?’ Fossie nodded. Heloved her. ” (107) Rat lets us know that he thinks the VC are less then human.

    Why did Fossie nod, in Rat’s opinion? Not because he thought Fossie felt she wasright, but because he loved her. Because Rat feels that the VC are subhuman,part of the jungle, he sees Fossie’s nod as a patronizing nod to an unknowinginductee to the jungle. Rat, at every turn, tries to “make the truth burn sohot that you would feel exactly what he felt. ” (101) Rat makes the readerconstantly want to love Vietnam, to love the intricacies of the jungle, to lovethe trill of danger and imminent threat of death. ” ‘It’s like trying to tellsomebody what chocolate tastes like. ‘ ” (123) The audience gets a somewhatgentle reminder from Mitchell Sanders, as he declares ” ‘Or shit.

    ‘ ” (123) “ButRat Kiley couldn’t help it. He wanted to bracket the full range of meaning. “(116) Rat wants to inject within the reader a love similar to his toward MaryAnne. He wants the reader to want to become one with the jungle. He wants thereader to understand that there is a base human connection with nature, and thatone doesn’t have to be a man to feel it. It isn’t about man vs.

    woman, it’sabout humans vs. nature. Everybody comes in without a clue. They get theirview on the future and humanity raped away by the deflowering of reality in thejungle. They begin to understand what matters and what doesn’t.

    On it’ssuperficial level, Song Tra Bong is about a story. This story takes placewithin a character. Rat “had a tendency to stop now and then, interrupting theflow, inserting little clarifications or bits of analysis and personal opinion. “(116) Rat molded the view of the story. He shows the reader what Rat deemsimportant, and he constantly adds his own twist to it all. As he said, he lovedher.

    He is going to put her on a pedestal for the world to view and appreciate. On the top, the character (at this level, the only one that matters) is thesetting. Just as Vietnam had it’s oddities and tendencies, Rat’s mind had it’sown pockmarked landscape with it’s own jungles and rain forests. Now that one has identified the skew of the stained glass window thestory is viewed the through, one can begin to fully appreciate what happened toMary Anne, and the conflict she encounters. She finds herself torn between thecivilized world which has her long time love, and the uncivilized world, Vietnamwhere she can exist in her purest form.

    There is a slow transition, as sheappears in preppy clothes, and she moves to “the habits of the bush. Nocosmetics, no fingernail filing. She stopped wearing jewelry, cut her hair shortand wrapped it in a dark green bandanna. ” (109) She finishes in a bizarrefashion, wearing her culottes, pink sweater, and tongue necklace. “She hadcrossed to the other side.

    She was part of the land. ” (125) How does thishappen? What makes this girl who has everything she wants give it all up tolive like an animal?Mary Anne finally shed the illusions of grandeur from home and decidedshe wanted to be a woman of the bush. It all starts with natural curiosity. Mary Anne wants to understand the ways of war.

    She wants to understand it’speople. However, she inexplicably finds herself out on ambush with the GreenBerets. “The Endorphins start to flow, and the adrenaline, and you hold yourbreath and creep quietly through the moonlit nightscapes; you become intimatewith danger; you’re in touch with the far side of yourself, as though it’sanother hemisphere. ” (123) She is beginning to become seduced by her basichuman instincts, the ones that say “Organized society is bad. Self dependency isgood.

    One should live within the wilderness. One should wear a necklace oftongues. “Being set in Vietnam, such a recognizable word, one so synonymous withwar, the irony of the situation leaps off the pages. Here is a man who has beenin-country for a decent amount of time. By bringing his girlfriend over, he isbringing into the fray somebody who has no idea of the dangers of the bush,somebody who, being a girl, and according to modern and past military policy,shouldn’t have been there.

    He should be the one who, in relation to her,understands the war. However, this doesn’t hold true. She becomes theunderstanding and wise one, as she exclaims “You hide in this little fortress,behind wire and sandbags, and you don’t know what’s out there or what it’s allabout or how it feels to really live in it. ” (121) A month earlier, he couldhave told her the exact same thing to prevent her from becoming so intimate withthe country, it’s inhabitants, and the war itself. At it’s base level, the inner core of Song Tra Bong, the interactionbetween setting and character is immense.

    So immense, in fact, that the settingitself becomes a character, interacting with the other characters, causingconflict. At it’s base level, Song Tra Bong is about the land, and maturing toreturn to innocence. It’s about evolving so one can devolve. It’s aboutreturning to the land, and it’s about the land seducing people to return to it.

    ” ‘Sometimes I want to eat this place. Vietnam. I want to swallow the wholecountry – the dirt, the death – I just want to eat it and have it there insideme. I feel close to myself. ‘ ” (121) Mary Anne now knows who she is. She hasfound her calling.

    In Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, setting is paramount. If one wereto take this story and place it in New York City, it would be laughed at. AsMary Anne said, ” ‘You can’t feel like this anywhere else. ‘ ” (121) The storytakes place in two places. On one level, it takes place in the heart of thejungle, deep in Vietnam. On this level, the setting plays such an importantrole that it becomes a character.

    It seduces Mary Anne, and it talks to her. The story also takes place in the heart of Rat Kiley. On this level, thecharacter influences the story in such a way that he becomes the top levelsetting. In the end, ” ‘it wasn’t all that complicated. The girl joined thezoo. One more animal – end of story.

    ‘ ” (117) But as Mitchell Sanders not-so-gently tells Rat ” ‘ Yeah, fine. But tell it right. ‘ ” (117), the reader mustalso try to read it right. If the different settings are identified, separatedand analyzed, then the true idea behind the story comes out. Category: English

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