Themes and Meanings
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, while coming out of David Rabe’s experiences in the Vietnam War, is not only a war play; it is also about growing up male in contemporary America. Pavlo Hummel offers the admiration of the outsider for those soldiers who can be considered “regular army,” the infantry, and for their civilian counterparts as well. As Rabe explains in an author’s note, “He has romanticized the street-kid tough guy and hopes to find himself in that image.” With matinee-idol soldier images in place of a father, he seeks and finds in the army a similar pattern to fulfill.
The play is set in the United States Army of the Vietnam War period. Basic training provides the language which defines reality for Hummel, and the world he encounters must be perceived to fit that language. He must also behave in accordance with the male image it defines. Therefore, he is ashamed of the intelligence and compassion which cause him to be assigned as a medic rather than as an infantry soldier; he suppresses the part of himself that would criticize the sexism, the racism, and the dehumanization of the image offered by the army.
The Vietnam War experience, however, resists being defined by language. When Hummel confronts human suffering and death on such a scale, when he himself suffers three physical wounds, the voice he has suppressed begins to be heard. As he fulfills the image his mother gave him of the film hero little Jimmy...
(The entire section is 503 words.)