The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel

by David Rabe

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What does Hummel's "basic training" in Rabe's The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel consist of, and what is its ultimate, symbolic purpose?

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In David Rabe's "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel", the notion of training encompasses both physical conditioning and a symbolic rite of passage. Since war is an inevitable and perpetual feature of human society, the metaphorical experience of 'basic training' is a universal one; since the machine of war requires violence and brutality, its success hinges on the cold, calculated will to destroy and kill. As such, the brand of soldier Rabe depicts as created during basic training is an ultra-masculine, emotionally disconnected, cynical one. Through force of coercive language (military chants, barked orders), exercises (push-ups and drills) and dogma (pushing through the pain of injuries), represented by characters like Sergeants Tower and Wall, Hummel and the other soldiers gradually lose any naïveté and open-mindedness as they transform into tough, heartless cynics. In Hummel's desperate and pathetic attempts to be accepted by his peers and earn the approval of commanding officers, his confusion is compounded by his efforts to fit the military mold; questions of individual will and responsibility are supplanted by the desire to conform. Thus, the ultimate purpose of basic training is to suppress the needs and wishes of the individual in order to allow institutional aspects of war to dominate.

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