UK Poet, Philosopher & Artist Ivor Griffiths' Official Website

American Fiction

Rough, Tough and a Sniffer-of-Muff

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 — July 2, 1961) novelist, short-story writer, and journalist as well as a member of the 1920s expatriate community in Paris; veteran of World War I and part of “the Lost Generation.” He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, and was a Nobel Prize Winner in Literature in 1954. Hemingway attempted suicide spring 1961, he received ECT treatment again, which he’d had some time previously to “treat” depression and which destroyed most of his memory: ECT was then an often prescribed “remedy” for depression. On the morning of July 2, 1961 and three weeks shy of his 62nd birthday, Hemingway died at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, from a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.

The Old Man and the Sea is a classic short story, up there with Land of The Blind and any short story you have ever read that you thought “Wow!” about. Read it.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Willie Loman lives the American Dream and wishes to foist it upon his son Biff. It is a complex and surreal tale, of life, death and betrayal, of paternal love and fraternal loyalty, the shallowness of business and the depth of true friendship. A modern day tragedy that is as relevant today as the day of its first performance, in London almost sixty years ago.

If you have any insights you would like to share – post them here!

The Music of Chance by Paul Auster

Friday, October 19th, 2007

This is a chapter by chapter consideration of The Music of Chance by Paul Auster. I haven’t quite finished it yet and will be adding references and a bibliography in due course.

Point of view: Third Person Limited
Main Character: Nashe
Themes: death, loss, fatherhood, identity, chance, coincidence, isolation and control.
Portrayal of women: one is a kindhearted whore, Nashe’s sister is caring and loyal, Nashe’s ex-wife betrayed him and abandoned their daughter, Nashe’s next love spurns him for another. Possi’s mother is bitter and resentful: overall negative portrayal of women and mothers.

Chapter One: we learn that the main character, Nashe, has been abandoned by his wife who has run off with a man. She left a note but the ink was blurred having been left on a damp counter. They have a daughter. Nashe, a firefighter, leaves her with his sister. He loses her, she is only two. We learn his father abandoned him, but then left him $200,000 which he squanders on road trips, packs in his job, sets up a trust fund for daughter. Has a relationship with a woman but abandons her. She abandons him taking up with another man. We learn that he sells his piano, and everything else, abandoning his possessions and identity. He meets Possi a young lad, beaten up and by the side of the road. He accepts a lift and they head for New York.

Chapter Two: we learn Possi has been in a card game, he plays poker for a living. He was in a game with patsies – lawyers, and was winning. The game is raided and Possi is blamed by the lawyers for the raid and beaten up. He has no money. He tells Nashe about Laurel and Hardy, a couple of older men who won the lottery and play poker badly. Nashe determines to bankroll Possi for fifty per cent of the winnings.

Chapter Three: Nashe begins to realise he is not behaving like himself. They get to New York and stay in a good hotel, Nashe paying. Nashe buys Possi clothes when they go out to an upmarket shop, in which Possi is a little gauche. They go back to hotel, still bonding, they have a drink and then go to the room and Nashe orders food. They have the meal in the hotel room, during which Possi tells Nashe about his father, a person his mother hates because he was sent to prison. He comes back into Possi’s life a couple of times, having made a lot of money in real estate in Florida. Both times he sees him he gets money in the form of hundred dollar bills. Possi makes a meal of the first hundred dollar bill; it is a symbol of his dad. He keeps it for years and then begins to think it might be faked, like his dad, but goes to the bank and realises the note, like his dad is real. This chapter is in part continuing one of the themes in the book of paternity and its fickle nature. Nashe has a Father he does not remember but who gives him money. Similar to Possi’s experience of his own Father; and of course Nashe gives his daughter away but provides a trust fund before abandoning her altogether.

Nashe reads a book, when Possi falls asleep; about Rousseau a baseball player who recounts a test of throwing stones at trees, deceiving himself as Nashe puts it. Nashe knows he must test Possi’s card playing, we learn Nashe himself was once a decent player, but he puts off the test again, wanting Possi to suggest it. The next day Nashe plays Possi, thinks he is a good player and satisfies himself he can win. From this we learn they are both gamblers, both have paternity issues and both are wandering and will accept chance as a guide.

They travel to the country there is a change of scenery. Nashe discusses his life; they talk about the Lindbergh trial briefly. They get to a posh house in the country (House of Usher influence here Edgar Allen Poe).

Chapter Four: Nashe and Possi are shown around the house by the two patsies: Flower and Stone, see the little model city and the broken works of art that each collects. They discover that the pair of them has had lessons from an old professional poker player. They agree the terms of the game. They learn of the old Welsh stone castle they bought and transported to America, that they have ten thousand stones they wish to turn into a wall. Flower, the accountant, explains how numbers are like characters. 10,000 is a repeating number in the text.

Chapter Five: They play, Possi appears to be winning and then Nashe wanders off to stretch his legs. Goes to the little city and removes the two miniature figures of Laurel and Hardy (Possi’s nickname for Flower & Stone). Nashe steals it and puts it in his pocket; it is the first thing Nashe has stolen for years. He goes back to find Possi losing. He gives him his last $2300 dollars and then hocks the car. He loses that. Then they cut double or nothing and Nashe loses that. They owe ten thousand dollars. The pair asks them to build the wall to pay off the debt. Flower is an accountant and Stone an optometrist. They agree to build the wall for $10 an hour each and sleep in a caravan.

Chapter six they begin building the wall, digging a trench, they find they are fenced in. Nashe gets to like it, Possi cracks up and resents the work he must do. Possi wants to leave and believe they could do so. They have a guard watching: Murks, but are fed everyday and provided with accommodation. The bond between Possi and Nashe is established here. The homo-erotic nature of their relationship is suggested by the differing physical appearance of the two characters: Possi small and thin and young; Nashe older (thirty-three – a magic number 3×3=9) and his build and height. The loyalty that Possi shows Nashe could be through guilt or adoration. Possi gets drunk one night and goes to confront Flower and Stone saying “the whole world is run by assholes” he says.

There is much symbolism in this chapter:
a) The Wall itself becoming part of the landscape & a fence that surrounds them and keeps them penned in.
b) Work – the work of building the wall is physical and connected with the earth
c) The Overseer – Murks is like a prison guard, matter of fact but as accommodating as he can be to show he’s just doing his job. Work is fundamental to the remainder of the text.
d) Dictators and landowners – symbolised by Flower and Stone. The miniature city represents the magnitude of their power and that of place. It is a monument to it and a pointless and endless task, like building the wall.
e) Land living (in the caravan) versus city life or a nomadic rootless existence both characters were living before.
f) Manipulation and Mystery are introduced here. Nashe only knows of Flower and Stone what he has been told by Possi and the two men themselves. Invisible overarching powers are considered, and their power to intrude and manipulate rules and lives, in the characters of Flower and Stone, two contrasting objects in themselves.
g) Walking backwards and forwards across the meadow, De Charteau and his theory of space, walking and language. The blueprint is akin to a map. Maps figure in City of Glass.

Both Nashe and Possi believe, as a consequence of the contract, that they can have anything they want. So they ask Murks to get them a few items. Possi wants a deck of cards, the Nashe books and a radio.

They have to dig a long trench, there are blue prints to follow and the work is heavy but easy. The wall cuts diagonally across a field.

Possi believes that Nashe going off for an hour and stealing the little men brought him bad luck and confronts Nashe about this. Meanwhile Murks (sounds like Lurks) suggests that they might want to stay on and earn extra money. They burn the figures (voodoo and magical reference to emphasise the mystery).

Nashe becomes physically stronger as the work progresses but must help Possi as he is not strong enough to lift the stones. Each stone weigh 60 pounds. Nashe can carry one without difficulty. The work involves lifting the stones onto a child-sized cart and wheeling them over to the trench. Thereafter they must lower them into position and secure them with cement. The wall will cut through the meadow and not follow the contours of the land, like a cut through the turf. At first Nashe is exhausted but as the weeks progress he bonds with the environment and is resigned to finishing the task. He derives satisfaction from the work. This is echoed more intensely in the last chapter when he begins to record the stones laid. It is as if after such lengthy periods of repetitive physical work that he is disassociating from reality and merging into a task of work.

Chapter Seven: they are nearing the end of the ten weeks to pay back the ten thousand dollars owed from losing the card game. They want a party and Possi asks for a whore. They get drunk and Possi has sex with the whore who falls for him. Next day Murks presents a bill, it appears in the text as a list of items, for the goods they bought and points out the terms of the contract. Nashe and Possi object but have to comply when confronted with the weakness of their bargaining position. So they have to stay longer. This shows the power of employers and lawyers to compel compliance and manipulate rules. They must both work a few more weeks, which takes them up to Christmas. Possi says he wants to escape; Nashe does not want to as he has a deal and likes the certainty and security of where he is and what he is doing, he is reading and happy, his identity is stable. But they agree a plan: dig a hole at the fence through which Possi crawls. Next day Possi is found by Nashe beaten to a pulp. Murks and his son in law take Possi to hospital, they say, leaving Nashe behind. He gets really mad that he cannot go with Possi. He is physically restrained by the son in law, they are only doing their jobs and enforcing the contract. Nashe resolves to escape and goes to the hole to find it filled in. Flower and Stone in this chapter have disappeared to Paris, France. The detached nature of the power that is controlling and, so Nashe thinks, that has killed Possi is highlighted. Nashe believes Possi to be dead because he tried to escape: showing the arbitrary nature of power.

Chapter Eight: begins by referring to a dream in which Nashe never sees the end, more than a simulacrum which he defines as

“an illusion so rich in details of waking life that Nashe never suspected that he was dreaming.”

Nashe considers why he would not finish the dream (that is escape) and concludes that it is fear of Murks, who now carries a gun and has done since Possi assaulted him. He writes to his sister and lies about why he is delayed and what he is doing. He misses Possi and hates Murks; he becomes lonely and develops a hatred of Murks so intense he has daydreams about hurting him and later even a four-year-old boy whom Murks brings to the site. The boy establishes the humanity of Murks and his detachment from the world in which Nashe resides.

Nashe develops an urge to play music and asks for a cheap electric piano, he has sheet music in the boot of his car. He plays older music and loses himself in it. Nashe believes Possi to have been killed by Murks and buried. But Murks provides weekly progress reports on Possi’s condition. He also takes off his gun when Nashe asks him why he still wears it. Nashe sees this as symbolic but cannot work out Murks’ motivation in disarming himself, does he think himself in such a powerful position that he does not need to bear arms? Then one day Murks brings a child of four to the site and Nashe develops an irrational hatred of the boy accompanied by violent fantasies that often result in the boy’s death. The boy establishes the humanity of Murks and his detachment from the world in which Nashe resides. This change in character could be as a result of stress and the development of the bond between captive and captor. The child is symbolic of his own lost child and childhood, the loss of a father. Then he snaps and feigns illness only to find he is ill with the flu. These references to dreams, simulacrum and fantasies are all post-modern literary devices that are showing the blurring of reality and fiction and the consequential blurring and ultimate loss of identity caused by loss (death, divorce, parting). The living conditions, supervision, faceless arbiters of power, manual labour, ignorance and manipulation symbolise of commerce and the land owning class. The setting is rural and is distorted by an impenetrable fence, thus making it a closed space or cage. In addition the wall is a scar across the meadow symbolising the destructive power of construction. The impact of nature and the animals that inhabit the space with Nashe assumes importance in his mind and he grows fond of crows noticing that many birds have migrated, a contrast to his own situation.

Nashe develops a need to call the hospital and confirm to himself Possi is alive, the news is given by Murks that Possi left hospital, but Murks is also censoring his mail. Nashe chooses to believe that Possi is dead and that is why he has not been contacted by him. Murks is adamant that Possi is alive and discharged himself from hospital.

Nashe gets well and determines to ask Tiffany, the whore, to call the hospital for him and then write to him with the results. Thereafter he realises he wants to have sex with her and fantasises about this. When she arrives they dance and then have sex. He tells her a lot of nonsense about having contacts in the film industry and wants her to stay in the caravan with him. He justifies this by telling himself it will be better for Tiffany, who is fond of Possi, in dealing with the news, he tells her after they have had sex. So he is lying to get an emotional response, thus undermining his viewpoint, as a narrator. He then turns this all into a joke and then tells her about Possi. She is shocked by the news but says she will ring the hospital and then write to him. The fact that Possi does not help him and Tiffany does not contact him is explained by Nashe as being the fault of his captors in censoring his mail and killing Possi. Of course it could equally be that they have simply abandoned him a thought that will have crossed Nashe’s mid as he dismisses these possibilities in favour of the more outlandish explanation. Possi has been beaten up before, it’s how they met, they are in a deserted part of the world but if Stone and Flowers play poker a lot they may know the lawyers and spoken of their win. It is thus possible that a third party did do it and Possi has just left Nashe alone. The story that he tells is further evidence of his change in personality.

Chapter Nine

The last chapter begins with Nashe “Crazy with loneliness.” He is completely isolated now. All the people he loves and has loved are gone. He has slowly disassociated himself from all that he knew through chance encounters and a need to escape. This manifests itself initially in the road trip, clearly influenced by ideas first advanced by Jack Kerouac in On the Road. But for Auster the road trip is represented as soporific and isolating, with the direct result that a relationship that Nashe had wanted formalised by marriage ends. He is rejected for the second time by a woman.

Nashe chooses to believe that the girl had written but that Murks intercepted it.
He notices the birds and change in the leaves, the wall rises, he can see the big house through the trees. He is proud of his wall and begins reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and notices a line:

“…until someday in very disgust he risks everything on the single blind turn of a card…”
This coincidence echoes the incident in which Nashe lost his car, everything by then, on the turn of a card. Again numbers are figuring here, numbers and money seem coterminous.
The weather becomes foggy and the wall seems to merge with the fog, reality and dreams. Nashe writes down the number of stones he lays each day and believes them to be numerical representations of his inner-self, he was driven to do this by:

“…some compulsion to keep track of himself and not lose sight of where he was.”

Nashe longed for Juliette, his daughter, and imagined her singing the Daughter of Figaro. Nashe thinks about the collection and the miniature village that Stone and Flowers have made, or put together, like him and his wall. It becomes an important symbol for him as he empathises with his captors.

Nashe declines Murks’ offer of the Jeep to transfer the Stones, preferring the old ways of working. He shows assimilation by his surroundings and the effect upon his psyche and behaviour, reminiscent of Zola’s theories. He resolves to leave on the day of his 34th birthday which falls on December 13th. Then he realises he will have to work for another week to accumulate enough travelling money for Christmas.

Nashe continues to build the wall, finishes paying his debt and has his travelling money, and Murks and his son in law offer to take him out to celebrate. Nashe refuses but changes his mind when Murks calls on him, in a last effort to persuade him to socialise with him. Nashe has a few drinks. He realises they are going in the Saab that Nashe lost in the game and is now owned by Murks, the one they took from him. Then he gets drunk and beats Murks’ son in law at pool playing for money, this is a powerful irony. Nashe declines his fifty dollars winnings and tells him to buy his child a present with the money. Nashe asks if he can drive home and Murks agrees. While listening to Haydn, or possibly Mozart Nashe cannot be sure (blurring), at a volume Nashe drives his old car (and life) fast. Murks turns of the radio and Nashe, whilst remonstrating with Murks, takes his eyes off of the road and when he looks back he sees a car and speeds up to die. He makes a conscious decision to destroy the car a symbol of his old life and himself. He has had bad luck since stealing the figures, apart from the win at pool.


Paul Auster – Travels in the Scriptorium

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

I’ve just finished reading Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster. It continues with the characters first encountered in City of Glass. The hero is Mr. Blank and, like Daniel Quinn, he has identity issues. As in Auster’s other postmodern works there is an examination of time and space together with a meta-narrative. He uses the idea of labelling to consider the semiotics of language.

The writing, as one would expect from Auster, is outstanding. The structure of the text is that of a chapter, although he uses white space to break it up. The dialogue is carefully crafted and draws the reader into the stories within the text that make up the plot. As in City of Glass the story is a literary exploration and uses the idea of mystery to blur reality. Surveillance, confinement and the yearning for an outdoors life are themes that run throughout the text. He also considers the mechanics of writing and in the process explores point of view, structure and stoytelling.

This is a carefully crafted work that I highly recommend.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried & Tina Chen

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

This essay will critically analyse the assertion Tina Chen makes, in her 1988 article entitled Unraveling the Deeper Meaning: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, that:

“O’Briens vexed preoccupation with the disjunctures that make history unreliable and memory the condition for narrative is engendered by the impossibility of ever achieving an unproblematic return home – whether that return is to family, community…or nation” (Chen T, 1998,p.79)

In addition Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is analysed to determine how helpful this statement is when reading the texts. The four constituent parts of Chen’s statement will be analysed: issues concerning displacement, unreliability of history in a postmodernist context, memory as a condition of narrative and exile.

Both texts have links to the Vietnam war, O’Brien was a participant and Vonnegut’s story was written, at least partly, during it and the Cold War and concerns the

Dresden massacre at the end of World War II. In the sixties, against the back drop of McCarthyism, the Kennedys were assassinated, there was a fear of Communism and television as a tool of political influence was being developed in the West. There was a real fear that there would be a Nuclear War. It is against this backdrop that the war was fought and during this time O’Brien experienced war and Vonnegut wrote an anti war novel about it. The quotation in issue is prefaced by an assessment of combat as being a world without rules and the contradiction between “personal memory” and “official history”.

By the mid 20th century there were a number of structural theories concerning human existence in the quest for certainty and explanation. In the 1960′s, the Structuralist movement, based in

France, rejected the existentialist theory that we control our own destiny; structuralism argues that individuals are the product of sociological, psychological and linguistic structures.

Michel Foucault, disagreed with two basic premises of structuralism. First he argued that there were no definite supporting structures to explain the human condition and because he did not accept the existence of any paradigm that would explain behaviour, did not believe it possible to view any society or text objectively. Roland Barthes extrapolated this theory to literary texts and argued that the truth of a text lay with the reader rather than the author. For Barthes the author was, like God, now dead. There are therefore multiple meanings, readings and authorities. This chaotic and fragmented theory is the theoretical basis of postmodernism’s experimentation with form and content.

Both Slaughterhouse Five and The Things They Carried can be defined as postmodernist because both narratives includes the author as characters that discuss the texts self consciously. In The Things They Carried the author and narrator both have the same name. Traditional boundaries between the author and characters is blurred in The Things They Carried by this device and completely removed in Slaughterhouse Five. The other traditional boundaries that exist between history and fiction, truth and lies, historical sources and stories are all blurred and deconstructed in these texts. Postmodernist texts, amongst other things, question accepted versions of history, and the value of official history. However it is not a precise term and not easily defined. Linda Hutcheon says Postmodernism is a contentious and ambiguous label explaining that Postmodernism is “not so much a concept as a problematic: a complex of heterogeneous but interrelated questions which will not be silenced by any spuriously unitary answer” (Hutcheon 2002). Metafiction is a more specific description of these texts, they both link and question history telling and story telling. Patricia Waugh defines metafiction as:

“a term given to fictional writing which self consciously and systematicxally draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In providing a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text.” (Waugh, 2, 1984).

Vonnegut poses the question to the reader: how do you write about a massacre? The difficulties are summarised when the novel both explains itself and confirms its status as metafiction:

“There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces.” (Vonnegut, 1969)

The things they carried exhibits metafictive self consciousness when considering the process of writing. The structure of stories, what makes a good story and how to identify one are all addressed by the narrator. Whole chapters are devoted to form and content in the chapters entitled How to Tell a True War Story and Notes.

“In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be sceptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.”

“In other case you can’t even tell a true war story. Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.” (O’Brien, 1991)

When telling the story of the six-man patrol in the chapter How to Tell a True War Story Sanders says “this next part…you won’t believe.” Going on to explain why: “Because every word is absolutely dead-on true.” This phrase highlights the problem of a story based on memory: if it is so unusual as to be implausible it will not be believed (without firm evidence) even if true; if the story is bland and sanitized it will lack credibility. Chen argues that The Things They Carried is about “the need to tell stories, the ways to tell stories, and the reasons for telling stories.” (Chen, 1988, p.94). She argues that the stories serve the purpose of rationalising alienation and provide it with a purpose or explanation. This contrasts with the recounting of history in which official stories often serve the purpose of concealing and obfuscating the truth.

The conflict between anecdotal evidence and official history is examined in Slaughterhouse Five when Billy Pilgrim is in hospital in a room he shares with a Harvard history professor. He has an official version of the

Dresden bombing. He tells the historian he was there; he is in fact an eye witness. The historian is uninterested in his account and prefers official sources; however, because it had been kept a secret there was very little detail of it recorded in the Official History of the Army Air Force in World War Two. He is sceptical when Billy Pilgrim tells him he was there. He does not ask him about it. He simply states that “It had to be done” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 144) and “Pity the men who had to do it” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 145). The professor did not consider that the suppression of the event was wrong and agreed with it: “For fear that a lot of bleeding hearts might not think it was such a wonderful thing to do” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 140). This encounter between an establishment historian and a witness that is ignored is symbolic of the scepticism with which a postmodernist text treats history.

How much of each book is autobiography is ambiguous. Science Fiction is utilised by Vonnegut to explore the relationship between fiction and reality. At the self declared start of the text (chapter two) we learn that Billy Pilgrim has “come unstuck in time” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 17) and is a time traveller.

Dresden as an event is fact and the introduction of Billy Pilgrim, displaced to the extent he cannot maintain temporal stability, is a demonstration of the effect of war on an individual as distorting. He is displaced in time, exiled from reality, a metaphor for the psychological effects combat causes. The narrator in The Things They Carried is ostensibly the author and as such is a major character, however in Slaughterhouse Five the story is about Billy Pilgrim and Vonnegut is a minor character.

The Things They Carried is not a collection of short stories, but neither is it one story. The structure of the book reflects the way in which a veteran soldier may talk about memories of war and conflict: discrete events and stories, some first hand, but many, like the chapter Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong – second hand hearsay, often embellished, but still “true”. The stories would alter on the re-telling. The stories are true to the teller but the listener may discern subtle or gross distortions of the previous version.

In the chapter Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong the reliability of war stories is examined in the guise of Rat Kiley as story teller:

“For Rat Kiley, I think, facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you’d find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute and then multiplying by maybe.” (p. 87)

As an optometrist Billy Pilgrim helps others to see more clearly, but he cannot see life clearly because of the war and its effect upon his psyche. He has a breakdown and becomes isolated in the imaginary world of the Tralfamadorians, the zoo and the cage he is kept in are metaphors for the isolation felt by many veterans of all conflicts: “survivors guilt”. Each death in the text is followed by the refrain: “so it goes.” This is a reference to the Tralfamadorians view of death that no one truly dies because of the structure of time. It is natural for Billy Pilgrim, having learned to see time and death differently, to want to correct the erroneous view of time and death that others have andhe tries to do this on a radio show.

In The Things They Carried the relationship between fact and fiction are constantly evaluated, the technique used by O’Brien is more subtle than Vonnegut’s but the preoccupation of both authors with truth is characteristic of Postmodernist texts. The protagonists and narrators both share the same name and characteristics and some aspects of personal history: education, the draft experience and actually fighting in Vietnam and

Dresden respectively. But O’Brien has no daughter that he could take back to

Vietnam, as the protagonist has. The book, in the preface, is dedicated to “Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa.” (O’Brien, 1991). This suggests to the reader that the text is autobiographical but it is not. The text often contradicts itself, leading the reader to question the authenticity of the text. When discussing Curt Lemon’s death the narrator describes the incident leading to his death as “exactly true” but later in the text says he has told “many times, many versions” of the same story and then narrates another.

The function of stories in The Things They Carried is considered in detail by Tina Chen. She argues that the stories and bodies are metonyms of

Vietnam. She argues that the use of metonymy “works simultaneously in The Things They Carried to mask and expose the construction of Vietnam as imaginary homeland, the trope that governs the consciousness of the work” (Chen, 1988, p. 84) Her main point is that the use of metonymy infuses the text, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’s pebble is a metonym for home, as part of the shoreline and “by extension America” (Chen, 1988, p. 85). Home for Cross is symbolised by Martha, however his image of home is a fantasy, she does not love him and never has. When he returns home she rejects him and is cold towards him. This is the reality that most veterans faced when returning home. The psychological impact of the experience is such that there is a sense of separateness felt by them. They are internally isolated because of the experiences. This displacement is examined in the chapter Ghost Soldiers. Subsequent to being forced to leave the combat zone because of an incompetent medic O’Brien wants revenge. Ostensibly because of the pain he suffered. But the real pain is that of being separated from his platoon. Sanders does not want to help O’Brien in his quest for revenge saying:

“People change, situations change. I hate to say this man, but you’re out of touch. Jorgensen – he’s with us now.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 197)

It is at this moment that O’Brien realises that he has been displaced form where he felt at home: in combat: “I felt something shift inside me. It was anger partly, but it was also a sense of pure and total loss: I didn’t fit anymore.” (O’Brien, 1991, p.197). Chen explains this feeling of displacement by arguing that

Vietnam had become home for O’Brien. His need to write stories, like the need of an old soldier to reminisce, about

Vietnam is similar to Rushdie’s explanation of exile for Chen. This theme of a combat zone, and the feeling of belonging within it, as being so profound that it replaces home is argued by Chen. Her theory explains Bowker’s displacement and isolation in Speaking of Courage, in which he drives round and round a lake, he thinks about

Vietnam and considers that “The town seemed remote somehow.” (O’Brien, 1991, p.140). The constant driving in circles symbolises the endlessness of the effect of combat and that war stories never end. The chapter immediately following it is Notes, a metafictive chapter in which we are told Bowker kills himself.

A letter Bowker sends O’Brien supports Chen’s argument that

Vietnam becomes home. In it he says “That night when Kiowa got wasted, I sort of sank down into the sewage with him…Feels like I’m still in deep shit.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 155)

Bowker was killed in a “shit field” and sunk into it, becoming part of the land, part of Vietnam, his body a metonym of

Vietnam. Bowker is attempting to articulate that he is also part of Vietnam, which it is now his home and why he feels exiled in

America. This idea of the dead and living becoming part of

Vietnam is explored in the chapter Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong. An implausible story of a girlfriend who is flow over from

America is told in which she transposes from feminine to masculine in behaviour and then to savage as she becomes part of the land. Whilst officially listed as missing “Mary Anne was still somewhere out there in the dark.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 106) Her transformation, symbolic of the effects of combat, is so stark that “She was ready for the kill.” (O’Brien, 1991, p.107).

Chen’s thesis is that

Vietnam is a metaphor for home. The soldiers who went there were never able to return, they became part of

Vietnam, they are completely changed by their experiences and are never able to return to their previous way of life.

Vietnam is portrayed, for Chen, “as a corporeal entity…Depicted as a living organism”. The stories that make up the text serve the purpose of re-animating these bodies. In the last chapter the narrator explains how stories can revive life, “in a story I can steal her soul. I can revive, at least briefly that which is absolute and unchanging.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 229) His stories can make the dead walk: “Linda can smile and sit up.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 229). In Slaughterhouse Five Vonnegut uses the Tralfamadorians to re-animate the dead, people do not die because everything exists at the same time. Billy Pilgrim’s role in the text and being “a spastic in time” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 17) is the authors device to show the reader the effects of war and death on combatants. He is exiled in time. Chen’s analysis of The Things They Carried helps the reader to understand that Billy Pilgrim is symbolic of displacement and exile.

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