Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

In commenting on “Brock,” one early critic of Vietnam War literature observed that this piece demonstratesthe unique serviceability of the shorter fictional modes in coming to terms with the sense of episodic randomness and strange fragmentation that so often seemed to characterize one’s vision of the actual experience of the war.

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Yet “Brock,” which is not—strictly speaking—“fictional,” does more than this in the context of the book as a whole, for it is here that the central themes coalesce most clearly. What appears in this story is reinforced, or repeated with variation, in other sketches in the narrative. Rather than being seventeen discrete sketches, 365 Days displays, in its concern for social, medical, and military issues, a thematic unity that emphasizes the encompassing nature of the Vietnam War experience. In this it bears a remarkable likeness to Walt Whitman’s meditations on the Civil War, Specimen Days and Collect (1882-1883), and Ernest Hemingway’s tales of World War I, In Our Time (1924).

Despite the artistry of this nonfiction narrative, however, it has not escaped social criticism. Ostensibly for its liberal use of obscenities, the narrative was banned in 1981 from a high school library in Baileyville, Maine. Reaching a federal district court in Bangor in December, 1981, the controversy received some press coverage and eventual notoriety. Indeed, the library had housed only fourteen books on Vietnam, two of them nonfiction; one of these, Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War (1977), used more obscenities than did 365 Days. Several veterans testified in court that the obscene language in 365 Days added verisimilitude, that the book told the truth about Vietnam, and that “to censor the language in that book would be to deprive them of their own history.” Although Glasser himself appeared at the trial, it was not until the spring of 1982 that the book was allowed back on the library shelves.

In his next three books, Glasser turned more directly toward the medical profession: In Ward 402 (1973), he focuses on an eleven-year-old-girl who dies of leukemia after receiving controversial medical treatment; in The Body Is the Hero (1976), he relates the history of the science of immunology, beginning with Louis Pasteur; and in The Greatest Battle (1976), he advances his own theories about the genesis and prognosis of certain types of cancers and the problems inherent in the accepted forms of research. These works, however, seem to have left him unfulfilled. In 1985, rejecting his own statement, “If there is more to be said [about Vietnam] it will have to be said by others,” he returned to this subject in his first fictional narrative, Another War, Another Peace. In this book Glasser wrote explicitly about what is merely implied in 365 Days—that, for the survivors of the war, its effects linger. The central figure, a young man stationed first in Vietnam and then reassigned to Camp Zama, exhibits the typical psychological manifestations of survivor guilt.

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