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Analysis of Three Selected Works: Beah, Huong, and Rabe
Regarding works of many famous writers, theme of war is the one of the most vigorously discussed topics compared to others. Suffering, loss, and pain along with hope and love are very powerful feelings that accompany people who directly or indirectly are engaged in the military actions. In this regard, such literary pieces evoke strong emotions in every reader. In three novels A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, Novel Without a Name by Duong Thu Huong, and The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel by David Rabe the theme of war is deeply felt. The protagonists of the particular stories are facing cruelty of the war since their early years. In the novel A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, the writer depicts the transformations he went through being a young man during the military actions, as well as his struggle for survival. Novel Without a Name is one more narrative on the warfare, which emphasizes the ruinous effect of military actions on human lives. In addition, Duong Thu Huong’s novel shares the theme of the Vietnam War with Rabe’s play The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel where the writer portrays the story of a young male soldier. Thereby, in three selected novels, Ishmael Beah, Duong Thu Huong, and David Rabe in accordance, depict destructive effects of war on the psychics of their characters who brought home suffering and loss caused by military actions.
The theme of suffering and loss permeates three novels from their beginning till the end. In his novel, Ishmael Beah represents miseries he faced himself. Being a child solider during the civil war in Sierra Leone, the man encountered numerous miseries, as well as pain and loss of native people and friends. The memoir demonstrates how severe life conditions may change people’s life dramatically and force them to select either to accept particular changes and get used to them or die, I joined the army to avenge the deaths of my family and to survive… (Beah 199). Similarly to Ishmael Beah, Quan from Novel Without a Name sees horrors of war from the yearly ages. Despite the fact that the novel portrays the story from the Vietnamese side, the experiences of soldiers from both armies are pretty similar. Participating in the war from the early years, Quan witnesses the brutalizing effects of the warfare the more he travels throughout the country, the more he thinks how much he has lost. Seeing sufferings of every person he met along the way forces him to understand that war is only about losses and miseries. Thus, the novel itself is a document that provides the audience with episodes of suffering endured by both soldiers and civilians physical and psychic trauma, victimization, and atrocities. In addition to this, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel is one more story that depicts sufferings and loss caused by the war. Moreover, the play also shows how the warfare reshapes all people forcing them to go through the horrors military actions usually bring. Therefore, three literary pieces perfectly illustrate the ruining nature of the war as it brought main heroes only sufferings and loss.
Psychics of three main heroes is undermined not only by the horrible violence of war, but also by addiction to drugs, loss of friends, as well as identity. In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, the protagonist of the story becomes a victim of drug abuse. Instead of being engaged in the activities that ordinary boys do such as playing games or hanging out with friends, the hero undergoes the pressure of the lieutenant. The latter spoils the youngster, as well as other boys, with white tablets that have to make males more energetic and add them strengths before being sent to fight. In another selected novel, Quan becomes a witness of insanity of his friend Bien caused by the horrible military actions. In this respect, military actions deprive the character of the close friend because they take away his common sense. In addition, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel demonstrates how the enthusiastic young protagonist is broken under the pressure of the military training.
Stupid fuckin’ uniform…. And there’s this really neat girl there sayin’ to me how do I like bein’ a robot? How do I like bein’ one in a hundred million robots all marchin’ in a row? Don’t anybody understand about uniforms? I ain’t no robot. (42)
Pavlo eventually understands that the warfare deprives him of his identity and transforms into a killing machine, which performs commands it is told. Thus, the brainwashing provided by the commanders is an effective tool in motivating aggression in the young men.
War also brings misery to the three young men and forces them to look at the policy from another side. Thus, Novel Without a Name is a narrative of disillusionment, which the protagonist of the story experiences after his return to the native village. Quan gradually realizes that many of the government’s talks about providing people with a paradise to live in have been a meaningless promise. After his return to the home village, Quan understands that Vietnamese government used propaganda in order to strengthen soldiers’ desire to fight. Thus, the link between Quan and Ishmael is quite obvious the both have been spoiled mentally or physically by their leaders.
At the age of 18, Huong’s hero is filled with enthusiasm and idealistic hopes:
This war was not simply another war against foreign aggression, he recalls thinking. It was also our chance for a resurrection. Vietnam had been chosen by History: After the war, our country would become humanity’s paradise. Our people would hold a rank apart. At last we would be respected, honored, revered. (Huong 31)
Nevertheless, seeing numerous deaths of compatriots and losses of friends during the years of the Vietnam War, the man becomes greatly disappointed with the policies of Vietnamese government. Thereby, war completely ruins Quan’s beliefs and youthful ideals that were concentrated around political system of his country. To the character, the war has become rather everyday battle for finding enough food and trying to escape bullets than the place where he could obtain political glory. Thereby, Quan eventually understands the limitation of his motivations for joining the war. Compared to Quan, Ishmael and Pavlo Hummel also face disillusionment of the policies of their motherlands. For instance, being addicted to drugs and forced to kill, Ishmael is completely satisfied with his role. Nevertheless, when the boy is taken to UNICEF, he becomes able to see the difference, and thus the war is appeared to be not a funny thing. Compared to Ishmael, Rabe’s hero also sees the true face of the state policy during the war. Firstly, the man views military training as a ritual, but finally he understands that it was aimed to break the human spirit in order to create a killing machine who performs certain commands. Thus, three men ascertain that their political ideals are not such as they thought of them initially.
All three heroes lose their innocence within the scopes of warfare. Thereby, accepting the life in Sierra Leone, Ishmael changes from an innocent boy to the empty-headed soldier, which still allows him to live, My childhood had gone by without my knowing, and it seemed as if my heart had frozen (Beah 126). Thus, Beah loses his innocence in order not to be weak because the weakness can get him killed. Moreover, drugs are necessary to turn the boy and other youngsters into men, and thus ruin their innocence. Being under influence of drugs, Ishmael kills a person for the first time and crosses the border between innocence and true brutality. At the same time, the youngster witnesses the death of his two friends, Musa and Josiah, which traumatizes him even more than the drug’s effect. Similarly to Ishmael, Quan also loses his innocence within the scopes of warfare. As Commander Dao Tien notes, My generation, we joined the army as soon as we reached the age to do our patriotic duty (Huong 75). Nevertheless, idealistic boyhood of Huong’s protagonist contrasts with his current travails having a brother and childhood sweetheart as a boy, Quan loses them in the wake of the war. Thus, the girl Quan has been in love with becomes pregnant from another man, while his friends in arms are killed or at least physically and emotionally damaged. It addition to this, Pavlo Hummel also loses his innocence first, he is an inexperienced youngster trying to obtain his masculine identity, but war transforms his into a man who is not scared to sacrifice his life in the name of idea, I’m different! I’m different than I was. I’m not the same anymore (Rabe 51). Thereby, three particular works are not only about military actions and experiences of young men; they also portray growing up males in contemporary world of cruelty and horrors.
In addition, Ishmael Beah, Duong Thu Huong, and David Rabe’s literary pieces criticize war itself and people related to it, as well as dehumanization, drug addiction, the sexism, and the racism it causes. In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, the protagonist is engaged in rape, stealing, and murdering of people that literally makes him a killing machine able to perform terrible violence. At the same time, Ishmael’s psychics is undermined not only by the horrible military actions, but also by addiction to drugs aiming to give him courage and repress his emotions. Being transformed into the monster programmed to kill, Ishmael seems to lose his chance for the bright future. However, UNICEF rescues the innocent victim of war providing him with hope, When I was very little, my father used to say, If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen (Beah 54). Experiencing love and compassion of the nurse, as well as his new family, Beah learns to control his anger and forgives himself for his past. At the same time, Quan from Novel Without a Name also undergoes dehumanization caused by war firstly, the character sees his purpose in killing rivals and thus achieving aims of Marxist bureaucrats and policies of Vietnamese government. Nevertheless, when the man sees the consequences of that struggle and contemptuous attitude of soldiers to their people, Quan understands that war is not an option to put his own political ideals on others, I consider that, though, the war that most people have been heralding, the war against the Americans, is in fact the most stupid war in our history (Huong 174). Additionally, David Rabe’s play can also be regarded as a critique of the sexism and the racism caused by war. According to Rabe, What kinda army is this anyway, you’re supposed to trust people with your life, you can’t even trust ’em not to steal your money (38). Although the main hero romanticizes the figure of soldier, he eventually views the war as a result of unnecessary indignity performed by those who possess the power. Thus, being trained to obey and believe whatever they are told, the American soldiers are motivated rather by a desire for sex than by any duty calling. Therefore, the three stories are considered a critique of war, which has taught heroes deformed values.
While Ishmael Beah and Quan are rewarded by a chance to come back to the normal life after the war, Pavlo Hummel sacrifices his life for the overshadowed aim. In A Long Way Gone, the protagonist adapts to the changes he is forced to live within, and that helps him to survive in his country, engulfed by war, We had yet to learn these things and implement survival tactics, which was what it came down to (Beah 20). However, not all characters are able to cope with the consequences of military actions. For example, Huong’s hero returns to his native village, but instead of flourishing land and happiness, he observes the outcomes of the government’s propaganda dead brother, maimed friends and lost love, Last year, the village Party committee drafted her. Poor girl. By the end of the year, she was pregnant. No one wanted to claim the child (Huong 139). While Ishmael has an opportunity to start a new life, and Quan accepts his self-deception caused by government’s propaganda and tries to change his life, Pavlo Hummel is not so lucky to come back home. The man is killed by a grenade thrown by the fellow soldier. Thus, the hero sees the true brutality of war and army itself, which he idealizes because the reason for such cruel action of his compatriot is simple irritation the protagonist becomes an obstacle on his way to seduce a local prostitute. In this respect, war not only destroys psychics of the main heroes that makes it hard for them to come back to civilian life, it deprives one of them of the opportunity to live.
War is a tragedy both for the people and countries it affects and the entire world. The authors of three selected novels masterfully portrayed all horrors of the war. First of all, military actions deprive children of their innocence because all three heroes from the selected stories are too young to be soldiers who go to war and see blood and death every minute. Thus, three protagonists had to become adults rapidly in order to survive in the severe conditions of warfare. During the war, people face suffering and loss, which they can hardly forget once they return home. In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Novel Without a Name, and The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, young men experience miseries and pain, and although some of them succeed coming back home, but each of them tries to manage the consequences of war in a different way. While Ishmael Beah is able to start a new life, and Quan revises his political position and beliefs concerning the government’s policies, Pavlo Hummel neglects the opportunity to return home that is a fatal mistake. In this respect, war is a horrible thing that deprives people of too many possibilities and years of life, but what is more important, it takes away the most valuable man’s treasure his life.