Every person has their own story. In the novel “The Things They Carried”, by Tim O’Brien, O’Brien talks about his experiences of being thrown into the Vietnam war as a young innocent soldier and explains how not only did he become strongly affected by the war, but he was able to watch his fellow soldiers change into new people as well. Throughout the book Tim O’Brien talks about many characters and the way they affected him during their time in Vietnam.
One person that truly stood out to him was Mary Anne Bell. In the chapter “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, Tim O’Brien talks about a young woman who came straight out of high school to stay with her boyfriend, Mark Fosie. Mark Fosie was a young soldier who planned to bring his girlfriend to Vietnam to stay with him, where he was serving in the war. Not only was Mary Anne Bell the only woman in this chapter, but she was also represented as a symbol of the effects of war on each and every single one of the soldiers. Even though she is only a young woman who traveled to visit her boyfriend, she becomes a way of symbolizing the themes of war and what it brings to the soldiers at this time. Mary Anne’s purpose in this chapter is to show the intermediary between the audience and the story being told so that the reader could understand the soldiers point of view of America. Mary Anne Bell is one of the most important characters in this story, due to the fact that she represents a crucial part of the war and how the war had affected many of our American soldiers.
In the beginning of the chapter “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, we are introduced to Mary Anne Bell. Tim O’Brien finds out about her through a story that his comrade Bob “Rat” Kiley tells him and the rest of the soldiers stationed with them one night. Bob “Rat” Kiley is a platoons medic who served in the mountains of Chu Lai during the Vietnam war. Even though O’Brien explains how “Rat had a reputation for exaggeration and overstatement”, “Still, with this particular story, Rat never backed down. He claimed to have witnessed the incident with his own eyes, and I remember how upset he became one morning when Mitchell Sanders challenged him on its basic premise. ” Tim O’Brien explained. Rat Kiley tells the story of how a young soldier named Mark Fosie flies his girlfriend out to the mountains of Chu Lai, during the Vietnam war where he is stationed. When his girlfriend gets to their campsite, she is portrayed by the soldiers as a “very tall, big-boned blonde. At best, Rat said, she was seventeen years old, fresh out of Cleveland Heights Senior High. She had long white legs and blue eyes and a complexion like strawberry ice cream. Very friendly, too. ”
The first couple of days she would dress in her cut-off blue jeans and her black bathing suit top on the volleyball court, and at night she would dance to Rat Kiley’s portable tap deck. She was full of life and curious about the many things the war had brought. Soon enough she had learned a new language, was taught how to shoot a gun and even made Mark Fosie take her to town. “The war intrigued her. The land, too, and the mystery. ” When Mary Anne Bell started to learn the ways of life during war, there was no turning back for her. Throughout the first half of the story, Tim O’Brien portrays Mary Anne Bell as a very innocent and girly, young women, but as the audience reads deeper into the novel she starts to become something totally opposite of what she is first seen to be. “At the end of the second week, when four casualties came in, Mary Anne wasn’t afraid to get her hands bloody. At times, in fact, she seemed fascinated by it”. The longer Mary Anne stayed at the campsite with the soldiers, the more she started to fall in love with the way they were living out their lives. “The way she quickly fell into the habits of the bush. No cosmetics, no fingernail filing. She stopped wearing jewelry, cut her hair short and wrapped it in a dark green bandanna. Hygiene became a matter of small consequence”. As she starts to become more involved in the way of the war, she starts to change her morals and she starts to develop into a darker version of herself. When her boyfriend, Mark Fosie, see’s her becoming a less girly version of herself, he begins to rethink his decisions on why he had brought her to his station in the first place. Later in the novel, Mary Anne starts to join the green beret soldiers on their night ambushes and leaves Mark Fosie and the camp to follow the war.
At the end of the chapter, Mark Fosie hears Mary Anne’s voice singing a high pitched song alone deep in the woods. When he goes to look for her, he finds himself breaking into a dark, hidden hootch. “Thick and numbing, like an animal’s den, a mix of blood and scorched hair and excrement and the sweet-sour odor of moldering flesh — the stink of the kill. But that was not all. On a post at the rear of the hootch was the decayed head of a large black leopard; strips of yellow-brown skin dangled from the overhead rafters. And bones. Stacks of bones — all kinds. ” As Fosie had taken off to go look for Mary Anne, Rat Kiley had followed behind him with another soldier, just to see where he was running off to. As they had followed him into the hootch, they had found Mary Anne. “At the girl’s throat was a necklace of human tongues. Elongated and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire, one overlapping the next, the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable”. Even after being with the “greenies”, “one morning, all alone, Mary Anne walked off into the mountains and did not come back”. This woman was not the same woman who had came to Vietnam as a fresh high school graduate, she was now a cold blooded killer.
After reading the chapter “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, the audience is able to watch Mary Anne Bell morphe into the new person she has become. One of the first symbols that Mary Anne symbolizes is the people living in America during the Vietnam war. The soldiers families that were living in America did not experience the war first hand, but they did see it on newspapers, television and the stories the soldiers told when they came back from the war. When Mary Anne first showed up to Vietnam, she was innocent and blinded by what the war held, which relates to America’s “innocence” and lack of knowledge of how the war was for the soldiers. Another thing that Mary Anne symbolizes is the fact that Americans seem to feel entitled to everything. Tim O’Brien explains earlier in the book that he finds no sense of the war and it just has to deal with politics. America feels so entitled to taking land that they had drafted young, purely innocent men that were just thrown into the war to fight a battle that was not theirs. The way that Mary Anne symbolizes this is when she arrives at the war, she feels safe anywhere. Also, at the end of the chapter Mary Anne tells Mark Fosie “”You’re in a place, ” Mary Anne said softly, “where you do not belong. ” She moved her hand in a gesture that encompassed not just the hootch but everything around it, the entire war, the mountains, the mean little villages, the trails and trees and rivers and deep misted-over valleys”.
The last thing Mary Anne represents is the way the war could completely change something so innocent into a cold hearted soldier. In the beginning she was a sweet, young woman who was bubbly and full of laughter but sooner or later she would turn into the cold blooded killer who would get lost and live her life within the jungle. She portrays what a lot of our soldiers went through during the war. Her necklace of human tongues and her loss of innocence represents death of our own soldiers within the war and how once you go to war, your life is changed forever.
Using Mary Anne as a symbol of the war helps the audience to relate to the story. Mary Anne Bell is one of the most important characters throughout this novel. She is used as a symbol of America throughout the chapter, which helps the audience gain knowledge of how America perceived the war and how the soldiers viewed America at this time. The way she morphed into a completely different person a the end of the chapter showed how quick our soldiers were being changed due to the bloodshed war. You don’t know how things can affect you until you are experiencing them first handedly.
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