Going After Cacciato

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Going after Cacciato


This paper discusses and analyzes the novel, "Going After Cacciato," by Tim O'Brien. Specifically, it discusses the meaning of war in the book and how war affects the soldiers. O'Brien sees the Vietnam War experience as one that lasted far longer than the actual fighting, and he shows just how devastating war can be to the men and women who experience it. The paper looks at how the book is more than a testament against war. It is also an engrossing look into the minds and experiences of soldiers and how they manage to block out the horrors of war by dreaming, fantasizing, and looking inward to ignore the realities of war that surround them.


Going After Cacciato is a novel about the Vietnam War, memory, and the imagination. The novel develops three distinct yet interwoven strands. The first is the story, told mostly in flashback, of Paul Berlin's experiences in the U.S. Army in 1968, the height of the Vietnam War. The second strand consists of ten chapters, each entitled “The Observation Post.” In these chapters, Paul Berlin is on night watch at Quang Ngai. The “Observation Post” chapters are chronologically later than the chapters detailing Paul's experiences. Throughout the night, he considers the nature of reality, “what happened, and what might have happened.” The third strand is concerned with an imaginary journey from Vietnam to Paris in pursuit of Cacciato, a soldier who is absent without leave (AWOL). Paul constructs this journey as he stands watch (O'Brien, pp 22-311).

Tim O'Brien develops his characters in a variety of ways. Because Paul Berlin provides the point of view for the entire novel, it is through his eyes that the reader comes to know the other characters. The character of Paul himself develops in several ways. First, in the “Observation Post” chapters, the reader is inside Paul's mind as he considers the nature of courage and of his own past actions. In addition, the reader comes to understand Paul as a thoughtful, reflective young man, someone who thinks about the role of memory and imagination in the creation of reality (Robert, pp 33-282). Second, the reader comes to know Paul by the way the other characters treat him. When Paul reflects on the past six months, he seems to be a naïve and clumsy young man, someone who does not always know what action he ought to take. In short, he seems to be much less in control of himself in these chapters than in the others. Finally, the reader comes to know Paul by the idealized version of himself that he creates in his own imagination in the fantasy journey chapters. In these chapters, Paul is a kind, brave young man who ends up with the girl they find along the road (Mark, pp 33-282).

O'Brien also develops characters by pairing them with other characters. For example, O'Brien develops the character of Doc Peret, a realist, by contrasting him with Paul, the dreamer. Likewise, O'Brien develops the character of ...
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