What is the theme of "Night Life" in The Things They Carried?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This short narrative in the longer collection of short stories gives us yet another insight of the incredible pressure that soldiers faced fighting in Vietnam, and the way that some were oppressed psychologically thanks to the burden and strain that they faced on a day-by-day basis. The story narrates how one soldier in particular, Rat Kiley, began to hallucinate that he could see his various body organs and begins to dream consistently of his own death and his body blown apart with the bugs feeding on him. At the end of the story, he admits that he has had enough and can't face anymore. He makes an incredibly revealing comment, which is explicitly linked with the theme of this short story:

"This whole war," he said. "You know what it is? Just one big banquet. Meat, man. You and me. Everybody. Meat for the bugs."

Kiley shoots himself in the foot the next day to get discharged, but the comment that he makes presents a radically different view of the war from the point of view provided by the leaders and the world as a whole. From Rat Kiley's point of view, the war is "just one big banquet" for the varioius bugs that feed on all the bodies, American soldiers and Vietnamese soldiers alike. It draws attention to the absolute futility of war and how pointless it all is.

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