What is the main theme in "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" in "The Things They Carried"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful stories in the entire collection that Tim O'Brien produced. All of his stories, to one extent or another, reflect on the theme of how innocent American youths, lots of them still teenagers, are impacted by the war in Vietnam which they find themselves fighting, and are changed, for the better and for the worse. However, the change that occurs in Mary Anne is incredible, dramatic and unforgettable. Joining a military operations group which carries out missions in the jungle, without the safety of a camp or sandbags, awakens in her a thirst and a desire for danger and violence that she never knew she possessed. The way that she is shown to be singing, wearing a grotesque necklace made up of Vietnamese tongues around her neck suggests that the experience of Vietnam has changed her for the worse, irrevocably. Note what she says to her fiance:

"Sometimes I want to eat this place. Vietnam. I ant to swallow the whole country--the dirt, the death--I just want to eat it and have it there inside me. That's how I feel. It's like... this appetite."

Her eventual disappearance and the rumours that surround her continued life and work in the jungles of Vietnam show how war impacts young, impressionable soldiers with often tragic results, opening them to a world of violence, darkness and evil.

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The Things They Carried

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