Transformation in Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong
In Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, Tim O'Brien gives a dynamic example of how even the deep roots of ones culture can be modified. The focus is on the young lady, whose boyfriend manages to have her shipped over to Vietnam from the U.S. She is then thrown into a completely foreign culture that thousands of American GI's were experiencing. This change in culture affected the strongest and most skilled of America's ground troops. The affects on a civilian are almost unfathomable.
The "sweetheart" of the story is a young, American girl whose description identifies her as the stereotypical girl of the late 60's early 70's. "A tall, big-boned blonde,/long legs and blue eyes and a complexion like strawberry ice cream. Very friendly, too."(p. 93). However, this apparently attractive appearance and sweet, innocent demeanor would change over the next few weeks.
At first "she liked to roam around the compound asking questions" (95). She learned many useful skills by "spending time with the ARVN's out along the perimeter, picking up little phrases of Vietnamese, learning how to cook rice over a can of Sterno, how to eat with her hands." (95), she had the mindset "I'm here,/ I might as well learn something." (96). Then slowly, she began to become more active in the activities of daily life in Vietnam. "At the beginning of her second week she began to pester Mark Fossie to take her down to the village" (96). The environment began to take hold of her and slowly draw her out and away from her conventional, civilian way of life.
"At the end of the second week, when four casualties came in, Mary Anne wasn't afraid to get her hands bloody./ She learned how to clip an artery and p...
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Almost a complete metamorphosis from the innocent American school girl to this highly skilled stealthy creature that could live off of the land without support from anything or anyone. "She had crossed to the other side. She was part of the land. She was wearing her culottes, her pink sweater, and a necklace of human tongues. She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill." (116).
Going from "white bread" America to the bush of Vietnam is a drastic change. Two completely different worlds. Mary Anne comes in as this assumingly frail child of American conventionalism and the story ends with her becoming the ideal killing machine. This shows how culture can change a person. During the Vietnam War, this change took place to thousands of soldiers. They were not born to kill, but to live. They had to learn to kill. Just as Mary Anne did.
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