Going After Cacciato, by Tim O'Brien, is a book that presents many problems in understanding. Simply trying to figure out what is real and what is fantasy and where they combine can be quite a strain on the reader. Yet even more clouded and ambiguous are the larger moral questions raised in this book. There are many so-called "war crimes" or atrocities in this book, ranging from killing a water buffalo to fragging the commanding officer. Yet they are dealt with in an almost offhanded way. They seem to become simply the moral landscape upon which a greater drama is played-- i.e. the drama of running away from war, seeking peace in Paris. This journey after Cacciato turns into a morality play, the road Westward metaphor. As Dennis Vannatta explains, "The desire to flee may have begun as a reaction to fear, but by the time the squad has reached Paris, Paul has nurtured and cultivated it until it has become a political, moral, and philosophical statement" (245). But what about the atrocities going on all the time? How could they be ignored in the face of this larger drama? As Milton J. Bates puts it, although Going After Cacciato is "not atrocity-based in the manner of much Vietnam War autobiography and fiction, [it does] record incidents in which Vietnamese civilians are beaten or killed and have their livestock and homes destroyed" (270). This book has an almost offhanded-like way of dealing with these My Lai-like atrocities. Why? What's going on here?
Well, one thing that one must take into consideration is the author's aim. As quoted by Timothy J. Lomperis at a conference, O'Brien has said, "'For me, the purpose of writing fiction is to explore moral quandaries. The...
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...ving dreamed a marvelous dream, I urge you to step boldly into it, to join your dream and to live it" (O'Brien 284). Thoughts lead to actions. But dreaming is also doing. The act of imagination can sometimes have more power than any technological weapon. It is imaginations that stop wars.
It is art fulfilling its role in society. It is art that brings the moral issues. It is art that makes us human.
Bates, Milton J. "Tim O'Brien's Myth of Courage." Modern Fiction Studies 33.2 (Summer 1987): 263-279.
Lomperis, Timothy J. "Down the Slippery Slope: Tensions Between Fact and Fiction." Interpretive Critique.
O'Brien, Tim. Going After Cacciato. New York: Dell, 1978.
Vannatta, Dennis. "Theme and Structure in Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato." Modern Fiction Studies 28.2 (Summer 1982): 242-246.
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