Essay about Emmett’s Experience in Vietnam in the Novel In Country

Essay about Emmett’s Experience in Vietnam in the Novel In Country

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This is In Country was a bit of a disappointment for me. I read and really enjoyed Mason’s Shiloh and Other Stories so my hopes were high. And while I enjoyed the novel, I had difficulty connecting with the characters and the setting of the story, which might have been purposeful on Mason’s part. She seems to suggest the impossibility of recapturing a historical event through narrative. All of her references to temporal and regional aspects of culture, such as the song titles and K-Marts and McDonald’s-es, prohibit both Sam and the reader from delving into the experience of another time.

Mason’s message of the novel is fairly obvious: wars may end but their effects never dwindle. Several recurring images in the novel underscore this theme: the “new” song by The Beatles, a group that disbanded in 1970, appearing on the airwaves in 1984; information about Sam’s father being revealed, such as the fact that he chose her name; references to the veteran whose daughter was affected by Agent Orange even though she was never in the war. Even Sam’s observations such as this one, “Down the hall, Emmett belched. It was the tomato ketchup in the lasagna,” are also similar images.

All the veterans in the novel seem to be haunted by the war in some way, even those who deny that they think about the war. These men reminded me of a study, which found that men who fought in Vietnam had difficulties reintegrating in U.S. society when they returned. In Vietnam, they had been acting out a “warrior” version of masculinity and lost that status upon returning. They did not know how to reconnect with normal masculine roles. Pete seems to be the best example of this observation, with his inability to keep a job and his supposed keeping of ears of t...


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...ther embracing the feminine roles of wife and mother, which disgust Sam. But through her quest, Sam seems to become more comfortable with her body. After her encounter with Tom, she has a different understanding of her body: “She imagined him driving up now. ‘I came over to play with your breasts,’ he might say.” Dawn’s pregnancy, which precludes Dawn’s desire “to play daddy” because she’s “sick of playing mommy,” and Sam’s mother’s home life, with her dull spouse and baby, repulse Sam at first, but by the end of the novel she seems more comfortable with her half-sister. She reconnects with her mother by giving her the cat statue. Her quest for the extreme masculine exhibited in war leads to her achieving a balance between the masculine and feminine. Emmett too finds that balance as he is able to smile, staring at the names of his friends at the Vietnam Memorial.

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