Novel In Country Captures Vietnam War's Impact on Young Girl

Published: 2022-12-27
Novel In Country Captures Vietnam War's Impact on Young Girl
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  History United States Literature Vietnam War
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1838 words
16 min read

Novelists such as American writer Bobbie Ann Mason tried to capture the effects of the Vietnam War in her novel, In Country that was published in 1985. The author tells the story of Sam Hughes, who lost her father in the war before she was born. Sam lives with her uncle Emmett Smith, a Vietnam War veteran who is having trouble readjusting back into society. As Sam comes of age, she sets out to examine the past, with a particular focus on the war in a bid to find out more about a father she never knew. On the other hand, Emmett seeks solace by repairing physical objects in the hope that such actions may help him fix his broken self.

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The Vietnam War began when the North Vietnam leader, Ho Chi Minh, refused to join the Southern leader and renounce communism. The United States was drawn into the war by fear of Vietnam falling into communist hands, hence causing them to join hands with the South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. However, as explained by Gil Merom, the American involvement in the Vietnam War created an ideological uprising that attracted more attention at home than at the battleground in Vietnam (235). Sections of the American public continued calling for the retraction of American troops from Vietnam soil, despite Nixon and Kissinger's efforts to keep soldiers in Vietnam (235). The process of removing American troops from Vietnam was slow. As Meron describes, "they were retained because American leadership was keen to control Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) and defeat communism" (235). Sections of the American population, including the troops and the international community, questioned America's presence in Vietnam. Christian G. Appy discloses that after their return, the veterans also asked the merit of their involvement in the Vietnam War (Appy 249). Many veterans came back and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, as they were not able to adjust to the daily life back home. The effects of the Vietnam War still haunt the American society to date.

The paper will discuss how In Country engages from the literary perspective, the psychological effects of the Vietnam War on the soldiers, their families, and friends. The novel centers upon literary articulation of trauma theory. Mason's novel reflects the theme of family separations through Sam's and her unwavering desire to know the truth about what happened to her father in Vietnam. She asks questions to herself and searches through her fathers' notes and letters. In the book, the author says, "she rummages through her dad's old notes to her mom I love you forever and ever-enough bushels of love to make a path from Hopewell to Quang Ngai" (Mason 180). Sam's attempt to obtain information about her father is an attempt to find her identity, which along with her father, was taken away by the war. The plot's theme on the recurring effects of the Vietnam War is evident as one can observe through the protagonists' lives throughout the novel. The story is a representation of the difficulties experienced by war veterans and their families in their quest to readjust (Kessler et al. 1049). The victims feel removed from society as exemplified by Emmett and Tom's inability to settle and have a family. Though the war ended after 19 years of strife, at the time of publication of In Country, it is still being fought on the grounds of the minds of the soldiers who had survived as well as those who were closest to them. Regarding the experience of trauma, only a few people may be lucky to find some closure after undergoing traumatic experiences (Drescher et al. 535). According to Ketwig, the number of Vietnam veterans who die from suicide related to trauma is more than those who died during the war (par. 1).

Mason's novel provides an insight into the traumas of post-Vietnam war through their literal articulation in In Country. Mason wrote a story on how trauma experienced in the war adversely changed and overwhelmed the victims through the characters of Emmett, a veteran, and Sam, the daughter of a Vietnam soldier who did not make it back home. Through support from their families and acceptance by the rest of society, the victims of war, like Emmett and Sam, managed to achieve their desire to heal. They both feel overwhelmed by the fact that nobody understands what the vets and their families undergo (87). Emmett's trauma is so severe that he thinks that the dead are better off. In an article by John G. Scott, the findings indicate that healing is a process rather than a result. It demonstrates that in the healing process, desire to improve for patients of trauma is the most critical factor and it is usually threatened by distress from doubt by close relatives and friends or casting doubt on their integrity (Scott, 3). Scott says that the first step to healing begins when patients connect with people. In the novel In Country, Sam connected with Emmett, and through regular communication and care, she was able to help Emmett recover, which also proved to be a turning point for her.

The Vietnam War is an unpleasant experience for the veterans that took part in it. Most of the veterans were enlisted at a very young age, and some had not received proper military training. However, some researchers tend to dispute this fact and mention that the number of older people who died in the war is higher than that of the young ones. The truth is, the teenagers that survived the war had to bear the entire "trauma at a young age," yet they had a life ahead of them (Rhoades et al. 15). Unable to deal with the trauma of coming home to an unreceptive society, some war veterans committed suicide, while others fell into depression. Some soldiers like Emmett in In Country, were just empty, as they did not find any reason why they should be alive, as evidenced by one conversation that took place in a vet party, "he's twice as lucky he died" (119). The conversation refers to having "Agent Orange" and the overwhelming feeling of not knowing why one is still alive (119). Even though the novel deploys the plot of a new generation, the decision to use Sam as the main protagonist had made it easier for Mason to explore how the Vietnam War affected not only the veterans that took part in the war but people who were not even born when the war started. This topic is relevant in the modern world as it shows the effects of the war on the future generations that came.

Other papers and journals that were published emphasized on the need to seek professional help for veterans and their families, but this paper focuses on the process of societal acceptance and appreciation as a better healing method than seeking professional advice.Literature ReviewTrauma theory has been a topic that has baffled psychologists for years. Scholars such as Herman and Kardiner spent a great deal of time studying the relationship between trauma and war. The history of trauma theory dates back to the 19th century when the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot started studying hysteria, a disorder that was commonly diagnosed among womenCITATION Ove \p 1 \l 1033 (Ringel and Brandell 1). Charcot was the first physician to understand that the origins of hysteria were not physiological but rather psychological. The findings by Charcot laid the foundations for what would come to be known as trauma theory. Since then scholars have proceeded to observe a close association between war and trauma. However, it was not until World War I that psychologists saw soldiers returning home with 'shell shock'CITATION Ove \p 1 \l 1033 (Ringel and Brandell 1). Literature by other scholars such as Herman notes that psychological first aid was initially developed to assist World War I soldiers who had returned from the war to cope with the effects of the traumatic events they had witnessed in war (Herman, 2). The psychological aid was aimed at providing a temporary solution to soldiers and help them return to the front line as soon as possible.

World War I was the first time that psychologists began observing the relationship between war and trauma. Psychologists such as Abraham Kardiner saw that the affected soldiers continued to react as if they were in the original traumatic event CITATION Kar41 \p 24 \l 1033 (Kardiner 24). As foreseen by Kardiner, one of the main problems that psychologists would encounter in addressing trauma was the choice between bringing traumatic events into the patients' memories and focusing entirely on stabilization. The same techniques that were observed by Herman during World War I were reenacted during World War II. Herman also noted that unless traumatic memories were integrated into consciousness, the treatment would only last for a brief period. Psychologists focused on providing brief intervention measures. The studies by Herman got the backing of Parad who observed the impacts of different kinds of crisis and pointed out the five factors that affected the victim's ability to cope with overwhelming life events CITATION Ove \p 4 \l 1033 (Ringel and Brandell 4). The five components are the facts that the crisis event may awaken key problems in the victim's past. One component is the problem overworks the psychological resources of the family because it is beyond their traditional problem-solving capacity. The third item was that the stressful event possesses an insoluble problem in the near future. Fourthly, the crisis period is characterized by the tension that mounts at the peak before decreasing. The final element is that the family members perceive the situation as a threat to their life goals.

Signs and symptoms of trauma were also observed among the Vietnam War soldiers who returned with physical disabilities. Scholars such as Lifton and Shatan worked with Vietnam War veterans to help them obtain support and validation from their peers by sharing their experiences with them CITATION Ove \l 1033 (Ringel and Brandell). The scholars observed the symptoms of their patients and compared their observations to the studies conducted by Kardiner from the victims of the Holocaust. Psychologists had gained extensive knowledge of the effects of war on a person's psychology. The psychologists had established that the events of the Vietnam war did induce trauma to the soldiers involved. The studies helped develop the common effects of trauma on the mind and body. However, as much as extensive studies exist on the association between trauma and war, few types of research associate trauma theory with the Vietnam War. Scholars such as Ringel and Brandell had focused on the Vietnam War, but their research was focused on the coping mechanism adopted by the victims. For psychologists to develop a remedy for trauma, there needs to be a differentiation of the kind of trauma experienced by soldiers in the various wars.

Understanding the Vietnam War

The historical contextualization of the Vietnam War can help one understand the public's perception of the war and the ones who participated in it. Before World War II, Vietnam was under the French Empire, but because France was adversely affected by the war, its control of Asian nation dwindled....

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