Going After Cacciato

by Tim O’Brien

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How does the narrative structure in chapter 24, "Calling Home," of Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato work to represent the contents of the chapter?

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The narrative structure of Chapter 24, "Calling Home," involves four soldiers in Vietnam--Eddie, Doc, Oscar, and finally Paul Berlin--going into a soundproof booth one by one to speak by radio hookup to people back in the United States. The structure of the chapter highlights the idea that the characters are isolated from their friends and family at home and somewhat from each other. When each person goes into the booth, he is cut off from the others, and the others can only see--but not hear--the person who is speaking on the phone by looking through a plastic window. As Eddie speaks on the phone to people at home, Paul Berlin watches him:

"Paul Berlin watched through a plastic window. For a time nothing happened. Then a red light blinked on and the PFC handed Eddie one of the headsets. Eddie began rocking in his chair. He held the microphone with one hand, squeezing it, leaning slightly forward."

The way in which the other characters can see, but not hear, their friends speaking with others back home suggests that each man is cut off and isolated from the other soldiers and from their friends and family at home. When each soldier emerges from the booth, he seems disoriented. For example, when Doc and Oscar come out of the booth, they looked "a little funny, not quite choked up, but trying hard not to be." They are isolated and disconnected from their worlds at home and having difficulty returning to their lives as soldiers.

When Paul Berlin enters the booth at the end of the chapter, the reader experiences what it's like for him to call home and have no one answer. He at first imagines what it's like at home on a Sunday: "He pictured the telephone. It was there in the kitchen, to the left of the sink." Calling home brings Paul back the imaginative world of his house, but when no one answers, he feels disconnected from his family. At the end of the chapter, he says, "Maybe they was out takin' a drive or something. Buying groceries. The world don't stop." His failure to connect with his family reminds him that the world at home goes on without him.

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