The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong

1894 Words8 Pages
“And then one morning, all alone, Mary Anne walked off into the mountains and did not come back” (110). Tim O’Brien’s short story “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” presents an all-American girl who has been held back by social and behavioral norms – grasping for an identity she has been deprived the ability to develop. The water of the Song Tra Bong removes Mary Anne’s former notion of being as she, “stopped for a swim” (92). With her roles being erased Mary Anne becomes obsessed with the land and mystery of Vietnam and is allowed to discover herself. Through the lenses of Mark Fossie and the men in the Alpha Company, Mary Anne becomes an animal and is completely unrecognizable by the end of the story. Mary Anne, however, states she is happy and self-aware. The men of the Alpha Company argue for virtue in that Mary Anne was “gone” (107) and that what she was becoming “was dangerous… ready for the kill” (112). They did not want to accept a woman becoming something different from what women always were. In “How Tell to a True War Story” we are told that a true war story “does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior” (65). Mary Anne did not truly become ‘dark’, because to her this is not a story about war; this is a story about a woman attempting to overcome gender roles and the inability of men to accept it. When Mary Anne begins interacting with the land and the material culture of war we are introduced to her curious nature. She would “listen carefully” (91) and was intrigued by the land and its mystery. Vietnam was like Elroy Berdahl to her in the beginning in that it did not speak, it did not judge, it was simply there. Vietnam saved Mary Anne’s life. Like Elroy, “[Vietnam] was the t... ... middle of paper ... ...eauty, law into anarchy, civility into savagery… the only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity” (78). According to story truth Mary Anne gave into darkness and became cold, but story truth does not matter. The absolute truth is much more dark and sad than that. Mary Anne struggled to define herself in a place that gave her the opportunity. Fossie’s stubbornness and inability to accept Mary Anne’s journey, however, led to her being consumed by ambiguous darkness. Is the final truth for Mary Anne similar to Curt Lemon’s? If “[a] thing [can] happen and be a total lie; [and] another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth” (80), then maybe the final truth for Mary Anne was that she really did “know exactly who [she was]” (106). The ending of Mary Anne’s story could have been beautiful and civil to her, but ugly and chaotic to you, and that was her liberation.
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