The Vietnam War in Short Fiction

The Vietnam War in Short Fiction Essay - Critical Essays

The Vietnam War in Short Fiction


The Vietnam War in Short Fiction

The involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War has been the subject of an extensive and diverse body of creative works in a variety of genres, including drama, fiction, film, and poetry. Writers of short fiction inspired by the Vietnam War and its aftermath have approached the conflict from various perspectives. The earliest short stories on the subject were written by veterans and often focused on the combat experience of the American soldier in Vietnam, as well as his assimilation into American society upon returning home. These works are predominantly concerned with the search for truth and meaning amid the chaos and brutality of war. Critics assert that these stories offer insight into the evolution of American society during the 1960s and 1970s and underscore a loss of innocence during these turbulent years.

In recent decades, critics have acknowledged works by female authors for their valuable contribution to Vietnam War literature. Recurring themes in these short stories include the effect of the war on male-female relationships, the combat experience from the standpoint of female participants, the reintegration of Vietnam veterans into American society, and the impact of the war on family dynamics and successive generations. Moreover, these stories emphasize the victimization of women as a result of the war, from those who participated in combat to those whose lives were touched by its consequences.

Vietnamese authors have also utilized the Vietnam War as a literary subject. These writers have examined the severity of war and its devastating impact on individuals and families, as well as the repurcussions of the conflict on Vietnamese culture and society. Both Vietnamese and American authors have written stories concerning Vietnamese immigrants living in the United States. Chronicling the myriad of challenges confronted by these individuals, this fiction highlights the coping strategies of Vietnamese immigrants in the face of anger and discrimination, and explores their struggle to thrive in an unfamiliar and sometimes unwelcoming environment.

Representative Works

Free Fire Zone: Short Stories by Vietnam Veterans [edited by Wayne Karlin, Basil T. Paquet, and Larry Rottmann] 1973
Vietnamese Short Stories: An Introduction [edited by James Banerian] 1985
In the Field of Fire [edited by Jeanne Van Buren Dann and Jack Dann] 1987
Adventures in Hell: Vietnam War Stories by Vietnam Vets [edited by David “Doc” Andersen] 1990
Aftermath: An Anthology of Post-Vietnam Fiction [edited by Donald Anderson] 1995
The Other Side of Heaven: Postwar Fiction by Vietnamese and American Writers [edited by Wayne Karlin, Le Minh Khue, and Truong Vi] (short stories and novel excerpts) 1995
Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam [edited by Ling Dinh] 1996
Touring Nam: Vietnam War Stories [edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Augustus Richard Norton] (short stories, memoirs, and essays) 1997
In the Shadow of the Wall: An Anthology of Vietnam Stories That Might Have Been [edited by Byron R. Tetrick] 2002

Robert Olen Butler
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain: Stories 1992

Diana Dell
A Saigon Party, and Other Vietnam War Short Stories 1998

Barry Hannah
Airships 1978

Lee Henschel, Jr.
Short Stories of Vietnam 1981

Ho Anh Thai
Trong suong hong hien ra: tieu thuyet [Behind the Red Mist: Fiction by Ho Anh Thai] 1997

Hoàng Thi Dáo-Tiêp
Vâng trăng lé ban [The Lonesome Moon] 1992

Le Minh Khue
The Stars, the Earth, the River: Short Fiction by Le Minh Khue 1997

Ursula K. Le Guin
The Word for World Is Forest 1976

Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried 1990

Susan O'Neill
Don't Mean Nothing: Short Stories of Vietnam 2001

Grace Paley
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute 1974
Later the Same Day 1985

Aimee Phan
We Should Never Meet: Stories 2004

Tobias Wolff
In the Garden of the North American Martyrs 1981
The Barracks Thief 1984
Back in the World: Stories 1985

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

Caroline Slocock (essay date April 1982)

SOURCE: Slocock, Caroline. “Winning Hearts and Minds: The 1st Casualty Press.” Journal of American Studies 16, no. 1 (April 1982): 107-17.

[In the following essay, Slocock chronicles the origins and growth of 1st Casualty Press, which was founded to publish the work of Vietnam veterans.]

In the early 1970s, a number of Vietnam veterans sought publication for a collection of veterans' creative writing which they felt could make an important contribution to a political understanding of the war in Indochina. However, efforts to find a commercial publisher for their anthology met with no success. Their conviction that this literature both deserved and could find a...

(The entire section is 4605 words.)

Milton J. Bates (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Bates, Milton J. “The Generation War.” In The Wars We Took to Vietnam: Cultural Conflict and Storytelling, pp. 174-213. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

[In the following excerpt, Bates explores the father-son relationships at the heart of Tobias Wolff's memoir In Pharoah's Army and Walter Howerton's story “The Persistence of Memory.”]

[There is a] kind of Vietnam war story in which the son feels initially superior to his father because he has the courage either to go to Vietnam or to resist the war. Two narratives of this type, Tobias Wolff's memoir In Pharoah's Army (1994) and Walter Howerton's short story “The...

(The entire section is 3046 words.)