Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Myers dedicated Fallen Angels to his brother who was killed in the Vietnam War. Myers himself joined the Army at age seventeen because it seemed to him that he had few other options. The protagonist of Fallen Angels, Richie Perry, is also seventeen when he enlists in the Army. The young man believes at first that he will not see any combat because he has injured his knee stateside. However, he soon discovers that the wheels of paperwork processing grind slowly in the Army, and he finds himself in the muggy jungles of Vietnam.
The story is one of courage, conflict, and deep numbing confusion about a soldier’s role in the Vietnam War. Myers tells the story from Richie’s point of view and spares the reader no detail of the young man’s terror, the firefights and bombing, the killings, and the deaths of his companions, who are the fallen angels referred to in the book’s title. Realistic language and settings play an important role in helping contemporary readers relate to the environment of brutal fighting in a Southeast Asian jungle.
Racial tension exists in the novel, but it is overshadowed by the intense fear and confusion generated by the war. The language can be vulgar, yet it seems to fit in with the raw, rugged life that the characters experience out in the jungle. In this book, the environment is overwhelming; death and injury surround Richie and his comrades, dwarfing the concerns of ordinary life (otherwise known as the World).
Initially, Richie yearns to get back to the World, back to his stateside, civilian life. Gradually, he begins to shed his childlike dream of being a hero to his younger brother and focuses on the crucially important issue: staying alive. He realizes that he does not know how to pray and starts to form a spiritual outlook. He begins to love the men that fight alongside him, to think not only of himself, but also of his comrades in arms. Myers makes it clear that the war has changed Richie forever and that the World has become the foreign land.
Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Fallen Angels is a graphic and poignant story that details the coming-of-age of Richard Perry, a young man from Harlem, during his tenure “in country” in the middle years of the Vietnam War. Interestingly, Perry is not immediately identified as African American. The narrator’s race can be deduced by readers, but students tend not to focus on his racial identity until he comes in conflict with both whites and African Americans. Perry is sent to Vietnam due to a “glitch” and is awaiting a medical release because of knee problems resulting from a high school basketball injury. The medical release comes only after Perry has bonded and engaged in striking confrontations with several squad members and has begun to feel a loyalty to them.
The novel contains several extremely explicit and disturbing scenes that delineate the violence and ambiguity of the American soldiers’ position in a country they do not understand: Jenkins dies after stepping on a land mine, Perry positions claymores backwards but ironically still wounds the enemy, “friendly fire” kills Americans, and the soldiers come upon beheaded babies and burning villages. In the process, Perry confronts his own mortality and the insanity of war, as when, in self defense, he kills a Viet Cong—an image that haunts the young recruit.
The heart of the book is Perry’s voluntary stay with his group after being wounded and recuperating. In another episode, Perry and...
(The entire section is 425 words.)