The Song Tra Bong Theme

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Literature often leaves readers vulnerable to the thoughts and feelings that the author wants them to experience. The usual responses –joy, sadness, fear, anger, and surprise– are ever-present in works of poetry and prose, but it is more of a rarity to see literature that is written purposefully to link the familiar with the strange. Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried, is an example of this very notion. As a collection of several short stories written in 1990, O’Brien’s work of literature highlights several concepts of weird yet recognizable moments specifically in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”. This short narrative is centered around a narrator retelling a story told by an unreliable Vietnam War medic named Rat Kiley. He…show more content…
In the exposition of the story, O’Brien writes, “But the stories that will last forever are those that swirl back and forth across the border between trivia and bedlam, the mad and the mundane. This one keeps returning to me. I heard it from Rat Kiley, who swore up and down to its truth.” The unnamed narrator describes right away how incredibly strange and unfathomable the stories are that he has heard during his deployment during the Vietnam War. On the surface this excerpt seems to lack the qualities peculiarity, but the words encourage readers to wonder from the first sentence just how bizarre the story of Mary Anne Bell is going to be. Therefore, it leads readers to question the cultural elements of narration. In the Irish Journal of American Studies, Donna Pasternak describes the connection between O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to the truths and surrealism of stories from the Vietnam War. Pasternak proposes, “O’Brien’s narrators are already aware of the inseparable nature of man’s ‘conjecturing’ and ‘summarizing’ in order to attain the truth”, (46). O’Brien’s characters from The Things They Carried, expect the war stories they hear to challenge their core beliefs and the three men from “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” are no

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