The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

David Fleming, an Army intelligence captain, is not, at the beginning of the novel, a sympathetic character. He has, by his own admission, allowed a known Viet Cong officer to escape from a South Vietnamese prison. Through David’s own thoughts, the reader is able to learn why he did what he did. There is a great sense of helplessness that is conveyed when David tells his attorney, Carl Lomas, that he can think of no way to explain his actions; the motivations are too complicated. David does, however, exhibit tremendous integrity. The moment he realizes that he has a child in Vietnam, he contacts Kenneth Trask and has him work out a plan for David to return to Vietnam to find his child, who he is sure is a son. While there are aspects to David’s character that the reader might find unappealing, he is an honorable man. Butler refuses to have a stock Vietnam veteran as his main character. Rather, Fleming is a sensitive, complex man for whom there are no easy answers.

Jennifer Fleming, David’s wife, is seen, more often than not, through the eyes of her husband. The reader is immediately sympathetic toward her because she is pregnant and vulnerable. Her husband is being court-martialed, and there is a strong possibility that she will be rearing their child while he is in prison. The reader is impressed by her strength throughout the ordeal. In addition, she will vent her frustrations and fears to David. Jennifer is a strong character, but she is not a...

(The entire section is 550 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

David Fleming

David Fleming, an Army intelligence officer on trial for aiding the enemy. Aloof and incapable of closeness, David finds his life changed irrevocably one day in Bien Hoa when he enters a six-by-six-foot cell that recently had held an important Vietcong prisoner, Pham Van Tuyen. Moving aside the rice stand to find “Hygiene is healthful” scratched on the wall, David feels an inexplicable bond with the man courageous enough to write these words, a bond that becomes an obsession. David searches for Tuyen, eventually finding the newly escaped prisoner and escorting him to safety, jeopardizing his own career and even his life. Despite David’s otherwise spotless record, he is court-martialed, though not imprisoned. During his trial, David and his wife Jennifer have a baby, David, Jr. David’s physical and spiritual connection with the baby is so strong that he intuitively realizes that he has another son in rapidly collapsing South Vietnam. This recognition overshadows the trial, now merely an obstacle to his discovery of that son, the offspring of an affair with a wealthy and influential Vietnamese woman, Suong. With the help of Central Intelligence Agency operative Kenneth Trask, David is able to enter Saigon as Canadian David Crowley shortly before the city’s fall. In the final days of Saigon, he discovers not only his son but also the answer to who he really is and why he saved the life of Tuyen. Refusing at first to believe that he is the father of a child who bears no physical resemblance to him, David comes face to face with his own egocentrism, an echo of his own father’s distance from him. His rejection of this child becomes linked with his bond for Tuyen, now merely a reflection of his own mind, its detachment and its irony. David’s redemption comes in his acceptance of the child of Suong on the night they try to escape and more clearly the following day, when he and Tuyen, who is now in charge...

(The entire section is 794 words.)