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David Mclean's Short Story 'Marine Corps Issue'

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David McLean’s short story “Marine Corps Issue” includes a beautifully vivid scene of Sergeant Bowen, the narrator Johnny’s father, “sitting on the edge of our elevated garden, black ashes from a distant fire falling lightly like snow around him” (620). While this scene is powerful by itself, it can be appreciated even more by understanding the symbolism and allusions embedded in it, as well as the psychological state of the father as he sits “on the edge of the garden with his head down and his eyes closed as if in prayer” (634). This is why McLean’s readers should use literary criticism: it enhances their appreciation for the story’s impact. Prior to the climax, Johnny has spent weeks researching the Vietnam War. The location in which he…show more content…
For years, he has avoided his past, keeping it locked away in boxes. As a result of Johnny’s search, readers now understand that Sergeant Bowen’s damaged hands are a result of “bamboo splinters under the nails...beating of the knuckles...being strung up by the wrists” (634). His avoidance of these memories is a major indicator of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sergeant Bowen’s condition affects his family members as they try to protect him by not bringing up his service. In fact, when Johnny asks his mother about his father’s role in the war, she adjures him to avoid the topic: “Don’t bring it up with him. It took him so long to forget all of that. Don’t ask him to start remembering again” (624). Another example of avoidance is how Sergeant Bowen changed Johnny’s original name. “My original name was Charles Michael… But when [my father] returned from Vietnam the first time, within a week he began the legal proceedings to change my name” (620). Since “Charlie” was slang for a Vietnamese soldier, Sergeant Bowen’s purpose of renaming his son was to prevent himself from being reminded of the war. Sergeant Bowen exemplifies yet another major symptom of PTSD when he experiences a flashback. Johnny recounts how as a five year old child he playfully surprised his father: “I leaped out from the table and shouted Boo! I saw a white flash- I was airborne” (621). Suddenly, Sergeant Bowen thought he was back in Vietnam- “crouched and rigid, eyes on fire, palms flat, fingers as stiff as he could make them” (620) -and it wasn’t his son jumping out at him, but an enemy soldier, and it was imperative he defend himself. After this incident, Johnny understood “noise alerted [my father] to my presence and prevented his being surprised and reacting on instinct” (621). Johnny has adjusted to the fact that his father is easily startled, yet another symptom of
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