What are some important themes in Tomcat in Love?

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A running theme in O'Brien's fiction is how war affects people; he examines war between humans as well as war between nations. Both varieties of conflict are much in evidence in Tomcat in Love. The story's protagonist , a hapless linguistics professor by the name of Thomas Chippering, seems...

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A running theme in O'Brien's fiction is how war affects people; he examines war between humans as well as war between nations. Both varieties of conflict are much in evidence in Tomcat in Love. The story's protagonist, a hapless linguistics professor by the name of Thomas Chippering, seems to be at war with everyone: his former army buddies, his ex-wife, even himself. And to make matters worse he doesn't seem particularly adept at managing these conflicts. Chippering's attempts at gaining revenge on his wife—who's left him for a tycoon in Tampa—are particularly inept, revolving mainly around the unabashed pursuit of nubile young co-eds.

Chippering is a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist. Vain, deluded, and boorish, he somehow manages the remarkable feat of making himself even more obnoxious: he cynically invokes his wartime service in Vietnam in order to get dates. The absurdity of war has clearly spilled over into peacetime.

As Chippering descends further into madness and delusion, we wonder what effects his tour of duty in Vietnam has had upon his mind. It seems that Chippering is still fighting his own little war. This time, the enemies are even harder to overcome, whether it be his ex-wife Lorna Sue or his own tortured psyche.

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