The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The narrator, Richard Perry, is an apt describer of events who acts as a camera lens for readers, viewing the action without filter and without judgment—a reader becomes a participant in the experience alongside the naïve yet forthright young man. Perry comes from a poor family, and the Army acts as his “college” of sorts. He writes home to his younger brother, reminiscing about the old life and advising his sibling on life matters. Like so many of the squad members, Perry must find ways to cope with his fears, guilt, and increasing sense of the absurdity and uselessness of this particular war.
Pee Wee Gates provides humor and exciting human interactions. His confrontational style appears to act as his “tonic” for dealing with slaughter and the brutality of his daily experience “in country.” Jenkins, the stereotypical doomed soldier who joins the Army because of family expectations, provides truly felt tragedy when he demonstrates that he is woefully unprepared emotionally for the world of war. His brief appearance is pivotal, forcing readers to question what is required to survive such experiences and underscoring the coping strategies the other soldiers must develop. Lobel deals with the war by visualizing it as a “movie,” thereby abstracting the reality of what he faces. Lieutenant Carroll has coping strategies that include a strong religious faith, prayer, and idealization of the “angel warriors.” It is he who teaches Perry to...
(The entire section is 292 words.)
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Themes and Characters
Coming of age, finding one's place in the world, and survival of self-against society are the themes in Fallen Angels. Richie arrives in Vietnam "ready to stop the North Vietnamese from taking over South Vietnam. I didn't feel really gung ho or anything, but I was ready to do my part." As Richie faces the reality of war, he questions whether the loss of lives and emotional wellbeing is ever worth the so-called benefit of winning. Richie discovers that there are no winners in war—just survivors. Each individual must redefine the person he thought he was and reconcile this unfamiliar persona with the man he will become should he live.
Richie is an observer. Through his straightforward narrative, readers meet the other characters and experience total immersion in the war-time setting of Vietnam. Recounting his first combat mission, Richie describes the men who, for different reasons, become an important part of his life in Vietnam:
I looked over at Johnson. The one expression he had in the world was on his face. Peewee was busy looking out the door. Jenkins had his eyes closed and his knuckles were white from holding onto the seat.
Jenkins, so scared that he can hardly function, steps on a mine and dies on this first mission. This is Richie's first experience with death at close range. Richie is disturbed that he is the only one who seems to remember that Jenkins ever existed. More deaths soon...
(The entire section is 796 words.)