The overriding theme in Novel Without A Name is the futility of war and its effect on ALL its victims. There is a political thread running through the novel and Quan, the narrator whose struggles are the subject of the story, is disillusioned, feels he's been fooled by his "Comrades" and knows he has lost everything precious to him. War changes everybody. Quan feels something in himself that scares him and that he feels powerless to control;
“From the depths of my pain, a wave of rage overcame me. I felt it rise in me, the fever of combat, the hatred, the irrepressible desire to kill, to annihilate, like a fire sweeping through my body, my brain…I stopped, terrified, unable to control the urge to destroy that had ravished me.”
His youthful innocence is lost and the poignancy of it can be felt when he returns home to find a father who has betrayed his family and a disgraced girlfriend. This compounds the complete betrayal by the military forces.
Tied into the theme of innocence are Quan's vivid memories and his longing for his mother's presence and his fond memories of his younger brother.
The war is supposed to release the Vietnamese, empower them with " the beauty of all its moments of fire and blood" ensuring they have control but it has done the opposite. When he joined the army, he and his friends were "intoxicated by hatred” for the enemy and had a vision of glory and patriotism; but no longer.
Quan's realization that he, and others like him, are pawns, mere puppets, comes when he overhears two members of "the Party " talking and Quan can see how manipulated the people are with "eyes opened wide in fear and adoration (who)... wait for the signal to jump into the fire, into hell… I am one of them."
He does not know if life will ever have real meaning again.