What does "The Ghost Soldiers" add to The Things They Carried? Does it provide any new insights, perspectives, and experiences about any other characters? What do you think is its function in the overall narrative might be?
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The function of the overall narrative is to delineate O'Brien's disillusionment and ambivalence surrounding his soldier experience. The larger aspect of male bonding within a warrior construct is juxtaposed with grim reminders of the physical and mental suffering incurred in battle. O'Brien does not shy away from the raw portrayal of bitterness, anger, and post-traumatic grief. The male sense of significance derived from the warrior path is honestly contrasted with the grim aftermath of post-traumatic suffering.
Although O'Brien misses the camaraderie of his unit, he feels oddly disembodied, separated from his previous association with this band of battle-hardened warrior brothers.
In a way, I envied him—all of them. Their deep bush tans, the sores and blisters, the stories, the in-it-togethemess. I felt close to them, yes, but I also felt a new sense of separation. My fatigues were starched; I had a neat haircut and the clean, sterile smell of the rear. They were still my buddies, at least on one level, but once you leave the boonies, the whole comrade business gets turned around. You become a civilian. You forfeit membership in the family, the blood fraternity, and no matter how hard you try, you can't pretend to be part of it.
O'Brien is scarred by memories of his helplessness and war injuries on the battlefield; there, Jorgenson's ineptitude as a medic aggravates O'Brien's injuries and he incurs months of suffering as a result. O'Brien is haunted by rage and a desire for revenge. When Mitchell Sanders warns O'Brien against seeking Jorgenson out, O'Brien feels betrayed. He describes the feeling as "a sense of pure and total loss."
Only Azar decides to help O'Brien seek his revenge. They plan on scaring Jorgenson when he is on night duty. However, the effect falls flat; O'Brien experiences post-traumatic flashbacks during the prank, and the whole affair descends into a brittle caricature of infantilic outrage. Even Azar is contemptuous:
"This here's what you wanted," he said. "Displaying war, right? That's all this is. A cute little backyard war game. Brings back memories, I bet—those happy soldiering days. Except now you're a has-been. One of those American Legion types, guys who like to dress up in a nifty uniform and go out and play at it. Pitiful. It was me, I'd rather get my ass blown away for real."
"The Ghost Soldiers" is an honest portrayal of the aftermath of warfare. Supporting characters like Azar and Mitchell Sanders display elements of the war psyche among soldiers; the contradictions of brotherhood and wartime loyalty are unflinchingly explored by O'Brien's narrative.
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