Why does Henry Dobbins say: "Dance right" at the end of story titled "Style"?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the very brief chapter of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried titled "Style," the author's platoon -- and it is far from certain whether this story, like all the others in O'Brien's account of his service in Vietnam, is true -- enters the remnants of yet another small village destroyed by fighting and reprisals against collaborators.  The Vietnam War has frequently been depicted through a surrealistic prism, and O'Brien's books fits neatly into that genre.  This particular chapter (more of a vignette, really) offers a classic case of the surrealism that defined that particular war.  As the platoon enters the remains of the village, a lone 14-year-old girl is observed dancing amidst the devastation surrounding her.  When the American soldiers enter her hutch, they notice the remains of her family.  The author describes the reaction of two of O'Brien's fellow soldiers:

"'Why's she dancing?' Azar said, and Henry Dobbins said it didn't matter why, she just was. Later we found her family in the house. They were dead and badly burned. It wasn't a big family: an infant and an old woman and a woman whose age was hard to tell. When we dragged them out, the girl kept dancing."

The hopelessly lost Azar later mocks the girl in such a way that Dobbins is prompted to intervene, picking up Azar and holding him over a deep well, threatening to drop the smaller soldier.  Dobbins states simply, "Dance right," meaning, if Azar is going to simulate the poor teenage girl who has lost everything and witnessed the violent deaths of her family, then he should do so respectfully, with attention to detail rather than in the blatantly disrespectful manner that Azar exhibited.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the story "Style" in the novel The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, the troop comes upon a village where a young girl is dancing with a dreamy expression on her face.  She is dancing with her dead family around her.  When Azar, a troubled young soldier, makes fun of the girl's dancing, Henry Dobbins teaches the young soldier not to make fun of someone who has lost everything except her life.  Henry's comment to Azar to "Dance right" is saying to Azar that what Azar was doing with his mocking dance was wrong, and that if he wants to dance, dance right without making fun of the girl.  The incident also shows the theme of war and love because Henry wants Azar to learn to do the right thing even in a war zone.

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The Things They Carried

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