Vietnam War

Social Effects of War in Vietnam

The study deals with the literary representation of the war in Vietnam in the narrations Home Soilby Irene Zabytko, The Red Convertible by Louis Erdrich, and the wartime diary reflected in the book If I Die in the Combat Zone by Tim OBrien.Each writer presents unique understanding of the social, moral, and cultural values due to different ethnic origins. The psychological difficulties connected with the return from war are inevitable, which allows to refer to the writings of postmodern literature. Postmodernism as a literary trend that covers the readings according to the psychological problems they disclose. The similarity of the general idea of Vietnamese War lies in the destructive influence of violent experience on the naive young people, who left as boys and returned as soldiers and became unable to socialize and live peacefully. The differences lie in writings show metallic and ethnic outlook of the minor characters attempting to support the principal heroes. The Ukrainian soldier described by Irene Zabytko cannot reach out to his father and sister. The American Indian Henry portrayed by Louis Erdrich commits suicide in spite of his brothers attempts to prevent the outcome, and the actual participant Tim OBrien reveals his spiritual and vivid experience, which is painful and full of despair.

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Communist dictators in Asia were rather severe in their intention to destroy the democratic regimes and capitalistic tendencies directed at economic development and prosperity. The lack of education and artificial aggression against capitalism promoted the obedience to the Communist regime in Vietnam, so the communist partisans initiated the war. The military actions in Vietnam represented an attempt to get rid of a dictators regime regardless of the violence and victims, despite the accepted human rights and fairness which were the actual aim of each side. The social impact of the Vietnamese war found its expression in the literary works by American writers Louise Erdrich in The Red Convertible, Tim OBrien in If I Die in a Combat Zone, and an author of Ukrainian descent Irene Zabytko in Home Soil. All three works represent deep psychological difficulties caused by the Vietnam War. The authors are of various origins: Ukrainian Americans, German, and American Indians, so they portray their heroes with analogical ancestries and similar mentalities. The paper focuses on the truthful demonstration of Vietnam War from the perspective of three mental cultures embodied in the experience of the soldiers in the works Home Soilby Irene Zabytko, The Red Convertible byLouise Erdrich and If I Die in a Combat Zone by OBrien, as the complicated moral, social, and cultural dilemmas encompass postmodern ideas in literature.

Social, Psychological and Moral Context of the Writings

The thematic analysis of the works predetermines the establishment of the key concepts implied by the authors. The relations between siblings as well as parents and children are the central component of many military writings. The way the American authors present it is special, as all of them have various origins. The mixture of cultures makes the stories interesting for sociological and literary analysis. Despite the fact that many global leaders disregard the USA as a country acting cruelly in Vietnam and blame the American military policy towards Vietnam, the consciousness of simple American soldiers did not remain reluctant.

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The realism of Vietnam War is reflected in the work of Tim OBrien If I Die in a Combat Zone. The profound despair that is impossible to cure is the idea regarding all O Briens readings. David Bahr distinguishes that the author wrote many works devoted to the Vietnam War (Bahr 101), but If I Die in a Combat Zone reflects the actual experience the author felt and understood when participating in the war. OBriens work claims that a soldier is not afraid of such experiences and struggles for the justice, common good regardless of the cruelty. Although the neglect is reasonable, the writer disregards such thoughts: Most of my college friends found easy paths away from the problem. Deferments for this and that. Letters from doctors and chaplains. It was hard to find people who had to think much about the problem (OBrien 21). The incomplete sentences reflect the diary writing and his emotional perception of the harsh realities and the need to protect the country regardless of his vulnerability. The society is blind as people are far from battles and deaths and understand that war does not concern them. Such ideas also reflect the disappointment and struggle in many literary works and the trend of the military and post-war literature in postmodernism.

The postmodern literature is characteristic for the description of deep psychological problems, and OBriens works exemplify this literary trend. After arriving from the Vietnam War, Tim OBrien gave the interview to The New York Times publishedin the article The Vietnam in Me. The sedative medication oxazepam did not help the author to reduce anxiety as the pictures of war appeared in front of his eyes. In spite of survival, the love for life has perished and the people can no longer hope: If war is hell, what do we call hopelessness? (The Vietnam in Me n. p.). OBriens experience of war remained painful for all his life. He left America as a boy and returned as an adult man with deep spiritual wounds rather than physical injuries. The most fearful experience for the author remained the loss of love. Not to be loved by his close people remained possible as his deep depression seemed incurable.

The total incapability to cope with stress is the central idea of the writing in The Red Convertible.The short story dwells more on the psychology of the individual as the participant of society. He disregards the support and attempts to entertain and travel. The very beginning already suggests the tragic ending. The suicide of a Native American boy Henry is the ending of Louise Erdrichs The Red Convertible,the second literary work linked to the issue of the Vietnam War. Such experience exemplifies total despair and proves to be the saddest resolution among all the tree writings. The unsuccessful attempts of his brother, who was also his dedicated soul mate, ended as Henry entered the river and drowned. Jane F. Hafen pays little attention to The Red Convertiblein picturing the overall ideas of the creativity of Louise Erdrich. Her views on the psychological problems of the Erdrichs character Henry are similar to the perspective of David Bahr in considering OBriens memoir (Hafen 55). This concept allows to refer to the work to postmodern literature according to the periodization and the ideas implied in the short-story. Being deployed in war, Henry was in Vietnam for three years and experienced profound change and became “jumpy and mean” (Erdrich 108), so he cannot handle his emotional and psychological problems. The change happened to the boy and turned him into a melancholic person no longer unable to feel, love, and entertain oneself.

The symbols applied in the works bear peculiar context. The photo taken by the sister of Henry and Lyman in The Red Convertible showed the boys differently and revealed their fate. The way the boys look in the picture is the actual condition of their souls. The positive and shining Lyman looks brighter than Henry, whose face disappears in shadows. The concept of the soul is striking in Home Soil as the dialogue takes place in a church. The image of father resembles the God telling the boy of the hardships of war and attempting to help him adapt and find his way. The allusion to the soul is not peculiar for OBriens work, as his writing is more similar to documentary, or non-fiction. Red color is an ambiguous symbol in the story. On one hand, it shows sibling love, which is also an important theme in the short story. On the other hand, the readers associate red with blood, so that it impacts the personality of the principal character, the soldier Henry.

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The third writing is represented by the Ukrainian-American Irene Zabytko. In Home Soilshort story, the woman concentrates on the issue of a family relationship between a father and a son. The way they sit in the church and the behavior of each character reflect their frustrated psychological condition. In spite of the fact that the author is American born, the Ukrainian roots are reflected in her mentality. Home Soil bears social character as the author considers the relationship within the family as a social union or mini society. Regardless of the fact that the understanding of war and personal experience of Vietnam has impacted the fathers personality, his attempts to reach out to his son remain vivid. The boy Bohdan did manage to talk with his father before he came to Vietnam, but now he regards his close people as strangers (Zabytko 492). Taking into account the historical experience of Ukrainians, as well as present failures in attempts to gain and restore independence, the writing also reflects the present wartime realities in Ukraine and despair of people returning from ATO.

The picturing of the unresolved psychological conflicts remains the similar feature of the literary works dedicated to the Vietnam War. The writings provide discerning outlook of the psychological and social conditions of the boys who came back as the soldiers after the war. Although their background differs, each person makes some attempts in fighting against the hopelessness. The wounds the soldiers received are spiritual, as they prevent from hopeful and peaceful living and seem unrealistic in treatment.

The Key Ideas Implied in Literary Works and Postmodernism

The analyzed issues comprise the studies of the cultural, social, and psychological context covering the brutal conditions in which the authors lived, their mentality, and positions regarding the war in Vietnam. As the concern of military events in Vietnam remain painful for all the writers, each of them experienced and expressed it in various ways. The symbols used by the writers also deserve attention as they represent the hidden messages linked to cultural identity and moral virtues.

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The religious component in Ukrainian mentality is undeniable. The environmental setting of the writing is church. The image of God is present in Home Soil and absent in The Red Convertible. Yet, the family union is common for Home Soiland The Red Convertible. Both soldiers remain children in this attitude, but their melancholy makes them look like problematic teenagers. The war breaks them as their minds are incapable of regulating and understanding the violence theyve experienced. It looks rather realistic as many soldiers did not receive sufficient training and had no moral and psychological readiness to cope with severe stresses and direct on survival.

The psychological trauma described in Home Soilis present, and it vividly reflects the mentality of the Ukrainian people. The destruction of family values and the failure of the boy to adapt to the peaceful state mirror the way he treats his father. Still, such a problem is possible to resolve due to the faith of the father and the sisters support in Home Soil. The depression peculiar to the characters of Louise Erdrich and Tim OBriens writings is deeper. That is why postmodern features are present in The Red Convertible.The description of the psychological difficulties and moral fall of Henry after the war reflect on his mental state and demonstrate the partial identification of the writing as postmodernism work. The contrast between the brothers Lyman and Henry pictures the central conflict between the hopeful and pessimistic comprehension of the world. In postmodernism, such features concentrate more on distorted and irrational perception, whereas Lyman holds rationality. His attempts to help his brother remain valuable and continue Henrys living and dissipate his dangerous ideas.

The theme of family values is similar for The Red Convertibleand Home Soil.American Indians also have profound communities in the USA. Their history is similar to the Ukrainian one, as they experienced foreign invasion for centuries. Such understanding allows reflecting the war from the side of Vietnam as the victim country. Historical and social factors interspersed by the inability to struggle against the mass of strangers and the spiritual fall resulting in forgetting cultures and ethnos. This served as the motivation for Zabytkos and Erdrichs works.


Soldier Henry from The Red Convertible, the Indian, dies because he cannot go on looking into his brothers eyes. His soul is unsettled and forever lost. Though Bohdan is at church, the Ukrainian soldier from Home Soil is distressed as well. His frustration is expressed in the way he tumbles his fingers when looking through the Holy Writing. His sister identifies the failure to communicate to his family as “culture shock (Zabytko 489).

The Ukrainian ethno-cultural phenomenon and social adaptation in the foreign country is the key issue of Dumchacks writing. The Ukrainian scholar chooses Irene Zabytko as the author who regards the problem of social identification of the Ukrainians in America. Zabytkos writing has more social inclinations rather than psychological problems. The problem of ethnic identity is the consequence of the years of suppression of the Ukrainian culture and language (Dumchak 42-43). Still, the descendants live in the USA and gain success abroad in spite of hostility and suppression. Although the Americans do not regard Ukrainians as a minor ethnos, the social status of the majority of illegal residents remains low. Such conditions served as inspirations to the story Home Soil.

Distinct belonging If I Die in a Combat Zone to postmodern literature distinguishes the deep depression of Tim OBrien himself after the war. His only treasure is that of his mind and emotions is his war experience: Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories” (OBrien 179). The book describes his military years during which he observed the deaths of his closest friends and comrades: Now, war ended, all I am left with are simple, unprofound scraps of truth. Men die. Fear hurts and humiliates. It is hard to be brave. It is hard to know what bravery is. Dead human begins are heavy and awkward to carry, things smell different in Vietnam (OBrien 23). Such atmosphere makes everyone think differently, because the enemys actions are unpredictable. The convergence of imagination and experience makes the reading complicated to perceive in the atmosphere of survival and despair. It is not a heroic tale of victories and glory, but rather a simple story of a soldier who returned back from war and revealed his injured and desperate confessions.

The writing performed by the actual participant of the war holds the depth and laconic disclosure of the events witnessed by Tim OBrien. Although he dedicated most his works to the topic of Vietnam War and his writing is rather spartan, some stylistic anaphora is present in the book: We lay next to each other until the volley of the fire stopped. We didnt bother to raise our rifles. We didnt know which way to shoot and it was all over anyway (OBrien 2).The author neglects the sequence of tenses, but his writing is full of action and conflict as compared to the more depressing tone of Louise Erdrich: After I’d owned the Joliet for one year, it blew over in the worst tornado ever seen around here. The whole operation was smashed to bits. A total loss (Erdrich 103-104). The ellipses are peculiar for the writings of all the authors. They are used to transcend the emotional expressiveness of short stories.

The ethnic dissimilarity distinguishes the writings as realistic illustrations of the life of Ukrainian Americans, American Indians and the Americans proper in the post-war period. Although the heroes of the writers Irene Zabytko and German descent American Indian Louise Erdrich are fictitious, they represent the reality and the mental world picture. The ethnic code makes the short stories precious for reflecting the culture in the light of interpersonal communication and helps better understand the development of the social phenomena.

The study of the war in Vietnam confirms that about 82% of the public criticized Americans for the military actions. Still, numerous Americans remained unwilling to resist the war. Womens organizations proved to be active in supporting the people who suffered after the war. Their role in reestablishing peace and helping the victims of war to adapt is undeniable (Havens 119). The exemplifying of the failure to adapt after the war is characteristic to Irene Zabytko. She demonstrates it by her characters mental difficulties and the social helplessness of a young soldier who saw murder and bloodshed.

The imprint of wartime experience in the American literature writing predetermines the inability to control and understand the conditions, in which the real and imaginary people live. Such failures lead to the inability to consider the ways of peaceful regulation when the violence reigns. That is why the decade of the Vietnam War became an example of rage and resulted in numerous victims.


The Vietnamese War has left an unfathomable trace in the consciousness of many people, regardless ethic, social, and psychological conditions. The results of war in Vietnam were as much more tragic for the Americans then they were for the Vietnamese. The regrets of the events found their expression in the literary works by authors of different descent. The facts taken from the surveys and the psychological conditions of the people who returned after war and their similarity to the characters created by the women writers Irene Zabytko and Louise Erdrich are not coincidental. Both of them witnessed the horrors of war from news and gained personal experience as the war was an important issue to all Americans. Wartime experience and the rationalization of the horrors are characteristic for the book If I die in the Combat Zone. The realism of war is common for the fiction writers Zabytko and Erdrich and the actual participant of the war Tim OBrien. The former show consequences, while the latter demonstrates the reasons.


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