Upon his arrival in the country, Richie is sent to the American base at Chu Lai in South Vietnam. He spends the greater part of his tour of duty on patrols and pacification missions in the villages nearby. Richie describes the monotony and tediousness of army life—long days punctuated by predictably bland meals, mail call, and the brief but terrifying forays into the countryside where violence and death occur with astonishing and numbing consistency. The physical danger Richie and his comrades face is framed within the ever-present threat of death and the black body bags awaiting those "warrior angels who fall."
Richie's one respite from duty is at a hospital where he recovers from minor shrapnel wounds and is awarded a purple heart. Given orders to rejoin his unit, Richie arrives in time for the Tet Offensive. He earns yet another purple heart before being sent back to "the World"—the soldiers' term for America and the lives that await them should they survive.
(The entire section is 165 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The first-person narrative brings an immediacy to the action and descriptions in the novel. Through Richie's observations and commentary, readers see the interplay between the soldiers and officers on the squad. They also learn about the army hierarchy, the routines, the weapons, and the chemical arsenal specific to the Vietnam war.
The soldiers' talk, often raw and coarse, reveals the elemental function language plays in keeping fear at bay and maintaining the toughness combat requires. This "linguistic setting," the language of the army and the very basic language of survival, is convincing, realistic, and appropriate to the context and the direct tone of the novel.
The emphasis on the dailiness of the men's lives and the effect communication from the World has on their emotional well-being is realistic and sensitive to the characters' identities. Conversations about family, girlfriends, and their lives back home, show how much or little these young men have to look forward to on their return. As the novel progresses, the dialogue shows how the war experience changes their views of the world and themselves.
(The entire section is 178 words.)
Myers's novel deals with social issues of current importance and concern in society: the morality of war, racism, and classism. The most pertinent is war and whether it is ever justified. Richie tries to rationalize his and the other men's presence in Vietnam. Ultimately, he concludes that as much as fighting for the good of the South Vietnamese and the suppression of Communism, he is fighting for his own survival. To his dismay, he is also put in the position of fighting for the greed and glory of certain commanding officers. Richie watches Captain Stewart inflate the enemy body count and downplay American casualties in order to achieve a promotion to major. Over time, this practice depletes the numbers of men in the squad and the company. When the Tet Offensive is launched, only a few of Richie's original squad remain.
Subtle and pervasive elements of racism and classism are revealed through rank in the army hierarchy. A new sergeant places the black soldiers on point—the most dangerous position— when they go out on patrol. Johnson, who carries the bigger M-60 machine gun, is ordered to the vulnerable rear position. That the men on the squad close ranks, rotate the point positions, and watch out for Johnson, is a testimony to the loyalty and protectiveness they feel toward one another. With the exception of Brunner, the soldiers realize that in battle there is no room for race and class distinctions. The survival of one individual heightens others'...
(The entire section is 576 words.)
Topics for Discussion
1. Richie has dreams of going to college and becoming a writer, yet, he forgoes these to join the army. Why does he feel this is his only option?
2. Richie's medical profile gives him a valid reason for not engaging in combat. Once on the base at Chu Lai, why does he not use it to obtain less dangerous duty?
3. The young men of Alpha Company look up to their platoon leader, Lieutenant Carroll. Why? How has he earned their respect and trust?
4. Lieutenant Carroll no longer seems sure of his faith, yet, he continues to pray for his men who he calls "warrior angels." Why?
5. The warrior angels are too young to vote. Is it fair to expect them to fight in the war?
6. Why are Richie, Peewee, Jenkins, Johnson, and Lobel in Vietnam? What reason does each of them give when asked? What role does race, class, education, opportunity, and parental involvement play in the young men's explanations?
7. What changes does Richie undergo during the course of his year in Vietnam. How will these changes affect him once he is back in the World?
8. What kind of life awaits Peewee on his return to the World? Will it be the same or different from Richie's life? Why?
9. The letters that Richie, Lieutenant Carroll, and others write home rarely reflect the reality of Vietnam. Why is it so difficult for Richie to write home? Why does his mother send her message of love through a letter to Peewee? (Chapter...
(The entire section is 321 words.)
Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Myers has created a world and populated it with characters from a variety of places and backgrounds. Even though this world is different from yours, how does Myers make the story probable or possible?
2. Myers has created a seemingly realistic picture of the last years of the Vietnam War. Find an article, news account, or essay about the war. Compare this account with an incident or description from the novel. Does Myers's portrayal stand up to the comparison?
3. In her review of Fallen Angels, Ethel L. Heins states that "the dialogue . . . is steeped in natural vulgarity. . . ," and that this aspect of the novel contributes to the authenticity and credibility of the plot and the characters. Do you agree? Why or why not?
4. In Chapter 15, Richie tries to write a letter to his little brother, Kenny. He wants to tell him about the war and killing a Viet Cong, but finds that he cannot put the experience into words. How does he explain what the war means and his reason for being there in a non-glorifying and honest way?
(The entire section is 178 words.)
Myers's fiction focuses on the experiences of young African Americans in society. His characters live in large cities where many of the choices they make concern basic family and economic survival. Some readers will find their experiences accurately represented in his books. Others may see a world much different than their own, and still relate to the common problems surrounding adolescence and young adulthood.
Myers's books, such as It Ain't All for Nothin' (1978) and Scorpions (1988) deal with the harsh realities of life in the inner city. Myers also details strong and loving ties between the family members and friends that populate his books. In turn, his characters "reflect pride in their individuality and in their decisions to be themselves." The cost of making hard choices, facing up to reality, and doing the right thing given a particular time and circumstance, are problems Richie faces in Fallen Angels. These same issues emerge in Scorpions. In this Newbery Honor Book, young Jamal reluctantly becomes involved in gang activity. His fascination with a gun—a symbol of power and identity in a world where he often feels weak and small—reveals a side of himself he is not sure how to handle. He knows the gun only brings trouble, yet he cannot bring himself to give it up. This inner conflict is played out in Jamal's attempts to make sense of the world and the choices it presents him. Like Richie, Jamal discovers that...
(The entire section is 458 words.)
For Further Reference
"Celebrating Literacy: The Language of Freedom." Reading Today 9 (1992): 1. This article provides an account of Myers's talk to the general assembly at the 1992 International Reading Association Conference.
Heins, Ethel L. Review. Horn Book 64 (July/August 1988): 503-504. Heins acknowledges the "dearth" of literature about Vietnam for young adults, and notes that "Fortunately, [Myers] is a writer of skill, maturity, and judgement." Heins compares this novel to Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage in its depiction of "the chaos and carnage of war."
Norton, Donna E., ed. Through the Eyes of a Child: An Introduction to Children's Literature. New York: Merrill (Macmillan), 1991. This reference text provides descriptions of Myers's novels and picture books. The works are discussed within both genre and elements of literature frameworks.
Review. English Journal 77 (December 1988): 70. This brief review ranks Fallen Angels with other quality literature about Vietnam such as Tim O'Brien's Going after Cacciato. The advantage of Myers's text, according to this reviewer, is "its accessibility to junior and senior-high school students."
Salvadore, Maria B. Review. School Library Journal 35 (June/July 1988): 118. Salvadore highlights the attention to detail and authenticity that characterizes Myers's novel of war and recommends it for both young adults and adults. She notes...
(The entire section is 306 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bishop, Rudine Sims. Presenting Walter Dean Myers. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Brief monograph meant to introduce readers to Myers and his work, providing serious analysis of the novels and of young adult literature generally.
Burshtein, Karen. Walter Dean Myers. New York: Rosen, 2004.
Goff, Stanley, and Robert Sanders. Brothers: Black Soldiers in the Nam. Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1982. Study of the experience of African American soldiers in the Vietnam War. Provides useful context for Myers’s novel.
Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Walter Dean Myers: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Extensive study of the author’s life and work, emphasizing literary analysis of those characteristics of his fiction that are of particular interest to young adult readers.
Jordan, Denise M. Walter Dean Myers: Writer for Real Teens. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 1999.
“Walter Dean Myers.” In Writers for Young Adults, edited by Ted Hipple. Vol. 2. New York: Scribner, 1997. Overview of Myers’s career and his place in the young adult canon.
“Walter Dean Myers: Fallen Angels.” In Civil Rights Movements to Future Times. Vol. 5 in Literature and Its Times: Profiles of Two Hundred Notable...
(The entire section is 229 words.)