The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong Analysis

Tim O’Brien

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story within a story within a story is a technique that removes the reader from the action, making the action less immediate and less verifiable. Emphasizing this effect, the story of Mary Anne is broken up at several points as Rat comments on the story. His comments point out some of the themes and also remind the reader that this is a story. The listeners tell Rat not to interrupt the story but to “tell it right.” Then, at the end of the story, the truth of the facts recedes even farther when Rat says that he did not see the end of Mary Anne himself but just heard tales about what might or might not be seen, heard, or felt by men going into the jungle. Mary Anne has left the world of fact and gone into the realm of myth.

Mary Anne’s transformation is pointed out by details of her appearance and manner. Pretty, friendly, and outgoing at first, the details of her appearance gradually change: She becomes careless of her looks and dress, cuts her hair, and begins wearing dark clothes—the fluffy pink sweater disappears, and she begins to wear army fatigues and a dark bandanna.

Communication is one hallmark of humanity. Mary Anne’s communication changes as the story progresses. Talkative and friendly at first, she goes so far as to learn some Vietnamese words and phrases. Then she gets less talkative, and even the pitch of her voice gets lower. The necklace of human tongues that she wears at the end is a final powerful symbol of the...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bates, Milton J. The Wars We Took to Vietnam: Cultural Conflict and Storytelling. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Heberle, Mark A. A Trauma Artist: Tim O’Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.

Herzog, Tobey C. Tim O’Brien. New York: Twayne, 1997.

Kaplan, Steven. Understanding Tim O’Brien. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.

O’Brien, Tim. “The Vietnam in Me.” New York Times Magazine, October 2, 1994, 48-57.

O’Brien, Tim. “You Can’t Talk with People You Demonize.” In Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides, edited by Christian G. Appy. New York: Viking, 2003.

Schroeder, Eric James. Vietnam, We’ve All Been There: Interviews with American Writers. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Press, 1992.

Smith, Patrick. Tim O’Brien: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Taylor, Mark. “Tim O’Brien’s War.” Centennial Review 29 (Spring, 1995): 213-229.

Vernon, Alex. Soldiers Once and Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O’Brien. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004.