Where Have You Gone, Charming Billy? : Where Have You Gone, Charming Billy? By Tim O’Brien Make The Connection : Make The Connection When you hear the word war, what do you think of?
Why do people watch war movies?
Why is war such a powerful subject? Literary Focus : Literary Focus Understanding Historical Context
“Where Have You Gone, Charming Billy?” re-creates a young soldier’s fears on his first night in the field during the Vietnam War.
To appreciate the details in the story, you need to understand its historical context. There were no “front lines” in the war, and fighting took the form of unexpected guerrilla skirmishes. From moment to moment, the main character doesn’t know what to expect—from his strange surroundings or from his own heart. Seeing an Author in His Work : Seeing an Author in His Work Tim O’Brien lived through the events he writes about.
His experiences as a soldier in Vietnam have served as the focus of his fiction and nonfiction.
The Vietnam War divided the United States with particular bitterness.
Although the war had a profound effect on our nation, for many years not many fiction writers dealt with it. O’Brien has written about it almost exclusively. O’Brien’s Style : O’Brien’s Style Fact and fiction are interwoven in his work, and his attitudes about the war are reflected in the themes and issues that recur throughout his works—fear, courage, violence, and the constant threat of death.
In the story that follows, he focuses on one soldier’s feelings during his initiation into combat. O’Brien’s Other Works : O’Brien’s Other Works In 1990, O’Brien published The Things They Carried, referring to the burdens, both material and emotional, carried by the U.S. soldiers in Vietnam—the M-16 rifles, the comic books, the flak jackets, and the fear. In 1994, he published In the Lake of the Woods, another novel about his persistent theme—the lingering memory of Vietnam. An excerpt from O’Brien’s work : An excerpt from O’Brien’s work “One of the most persistent and appalling thoughts which lumbers through your mind as you walk through Vietnam at night is the fear of getting lost, of becoming detached from the others, of spending the night alone in that frightening and haunted countryside. It was dark. We walked in a single file, perhaps three yards apart. Mad Mark took us along a crazy, wavering course. We veered off the road, through clumps of trees, through tangles of bamboo and grass, zigzagging through graveyards of dead Vietnamese who lay there under conical mounds of dirt and clay. The man to the front and the man to the rear were the only holds on security and sanity. We followed the man in front like a blind man after his dog, like Dante following Virgil through the Inferno, and we prayed that the man had not lost his way, that he hadn’t lost contact with the man to his front. We tensed the muscles around our eyeballs and peered straight ahead. We hurt ourselves staring at the man’s back. We strained. We dared not look away for fear the man might fade and dissipate and turn into absent shadow. Sometimes, when the jungle closed in, we reached out to him, touched his shirt.
The man to the front is civilization. He is the United States of America and every friend you have ever known; he is Erik and blond girls and a mother and a father. He is your life, and he is your altar and God combined. And, for the man stumbling along behind you, you alone are his torch.” Book Awards : Book Awards National Book Award in Fiction
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize - The Things They Carried
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award - The Things They Carried
James Fennimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians - In The Lake of the Woods Named best novel of the year by Time magazine - In The Lake of the Woods
National Magazine Award - short story: The Things They Carried
. Background : Background After many centuries of independence from China, Vietnam became a colony of France in the nineteenth century. In 1954, Vietnam was divided in two after a bitter war for independence from France, with a Communist government set up in the north and a pro-Western one in the south. Uneasy by the spread of communism in Asia, the U.S. began sending military advisors to South Vietnam in 1955 to help defend it against the north. U.S. troops began arriving in 1965. By 1969 more than half a million U.S. troops were fighting in South Vietnam. The government of North Vietnam eventually prevailed, however. In 1973, a peace agreement was signed, and U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam. Vocabulary To Know : Vocabulary To Know stealth n.: secretiveness; sly behavior.
diffuse adj.: spread out; unfocused.
skirted v.: passed around rather than through. Skirted also means “missed narrowly; avoided.”
agile adj.: lively; moving easily and quickly.
inertia n.: tendency to remain either at rest or in motion.
valiantly adv.: bravely
consolation n.: act of comforting.