Desertion in Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong

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The "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" is a story of many things when looked at from the right perspective. The validity of the story actually has nothing to do with its main purpose, which is to explain how Vietnam changed the American soldiers who were a part of the conflict. O'Brien's purpose is to inform his readers of the effect that Vietnam had on American GI's. Told by Rat Kiley, the "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" can be seen as a touching love story; sweethearts united even during a war. However, the true focus of the story is not love but change and desertion. Kiley is telling the story to illustrate how all GI's changed in their Vietnam experience. The fact that the main character is a woman drives his point even farther home. She is the very portrait of mainstream, wholesome America; the only thing she lacks is an apple pie. Kiley describes her as "This cute blonde - just a kid, just barely out of high school - she shows up with a suitcase and one of those plastic cosmetic bags." (O'Brien 90) This girl is the antithesis of what one would expect to find in Vietnam. She is pure and innocent. Throughout her time in Vietnam she changes from this image to something very different, she spends less time with her boyfriend, Mark Fossie. Mary Anne hangs around with the Green Berets, who are very different from the other soldiers. Eventually she becomes one of them, marking a total transformation, "There was no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it. But the grotesque part, he said, was her jewelry. At the girl's throat was a necklace of human tongues. Elongated and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire, one overlapping the next, the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable." (O'Brien 110) Vietnam changed Mary Anne; it forced her to become something as foreign to
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