Going After Cacciato
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Jonathan Cape (UK)
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ4.O1362 Go PS3565.B75|
This complex novel is set during the Vietnam War and is told from the third person limited point of view of the protagonist, Paul Berlin. The story traces the events that ensue after Cacciato, a member of Berlin's squad, decides to go AWOL by walking from Vietnam to France, through Asia. Cacciato means "hunted"/"caught" in Italian.
Typical of many stories that deal with themes of psychological trauma, Going After Cacciato contains distinct ambiguities concerning the nature and order of events that occur, which often requires readers to look beyond superficial appearances conveyed by the narrator's language. The chronology is nonlinear for most of the book.
The main idea of the story is, by O'Brien's estimation, that being a soldier in Vietnam for the standard tour of duty entails constant walking; if one were to put all the walking in a straight line, one would end up in Paris, where Cacciato is going.
It is important to note that Cacciato is always portrayed as self-sufficient and happy. It is Cacciato who is pursued throughout the imagined story of the book. The final pages feature the juxtaposition of two statements, by Sarkin Aung Wan and Paul Berlin, which contrast the early American view (think Emerson and Thoreau) of independence and happiness against the modern view of obligations placed on the individual to conform to society. The obligations lead to complicity in atrocities. Cacciato marches to the beat of a different drum, and is freer and happier in a cavalier, ignorant kind of way. His actions are sometimes portrayed as those of a man who is not particularly bright or gifted, but who is sunnily untroubled by the larger questions of the war itself.
Paul Berlin, the main character, is a frustrated soldier who during the entire novel focuses on every minor detail he encounters, whether in the past or in the would-be chase. In the chapter "Tunneling Toward Paris", the characters escape the endless tunnels by "falling out" just as they fell in; this allusion to Alice In Wonderland helps to reveal the story as surrealistic fiction. This surrealism in the novel also appears earlier in the novel when Cacciato flies off a mountain.
- Paul Berlin - Narrator/protagonist, who thinks up the chase after Cacciato.
- Sarkin Aung Wan - Burmese refugee who saves the squad many times, such as the time they became lost in a Vietcong tunnel complex
- Cacciato - Soldier who goes AWOL (to Paris).
- Frenchie Tucker - Dies in a tunnel, shot in the nose.
- Bernie Lynn - is killed after following Frenchie Tucker into the tunnel and is shot underneath in part of his throat.
- Eddie Lazzutti - Soldier in the Third Squad.
- Stink Harris - Leads party; is "trigger happy." He once had ringworm.
- Harold Murphy - Another soldier in Berlin's squad. Murphy leaves early on since he feels the mission is worthless and the penalty for it is too great.
- Buff - Short for Water Buffalo, is known for his big size. He dies while the platoon is trying to cross a field. Berlin commonly refers to his death as "life after death" because his face remains in his helmet after he is killed.
- Cpt. Fahyi Rhallon - One of the Savak. Tries to arrest the squad in Iran.
- Billy Boy Watkins - One of the casualties in Berlin's squad. Watkins is referred back to many times, often accompanied by a short song that the squad sung frequently about his death. Watkins died after he stepped on a defective mine which severed his foot from his leg. Although not mortally wounded, he enters a state of shell-shock and dies. Doc Peret claims Watkins died of fright. Watkins, especially via his song, demonstrates how soldiers cope with the death around them, sometimes subliminally morphing tragedy into comedy to lessen the fear.
- Ready Mix - Died during an assault of a hill in the Highlands. No one knew his real name; the mention of this character serves to illustrate a common superstition among soldiers in Vietnam that it was best not to get to know someone if you thought he was going to die soon.
- Doc Peret - the squad's medical aide. He sometimes uses M&Ms as a type of medicine for those under his care, usually as a way to calm down the over-reactive and the dying.
- Lt. Sidney Martin - The former lieutenant of Berlin's squad; insisted on following SOP (Standard Operating Procedures). One of the SOPs in Vietnam was to search all tunnels before detonating them; Martin enforced this rule sternly. None of the men in the squad wanted to search tunnels after seeing Tucker and Lynn die. The men in the squad attempt to plead with Martin, but he sternly restates that they must search tunnels before blowing them. In the end, all the men in the squad agree to kill Lt. Martin. The exact manner of death is never stated, except that Lt. Martin died in the tunnels. He was also an officer from West Point.
- Lt. Corson- Frequently referred to simply as the Lieutenant. He takes command of the platoon after Lieutenant Martin, the de facto leader of Berlin's squad. It is stated that he was busted down twice from a higher rank, once fairly and once not. As the story moves on the "Lt." is too old for the war and wants to go back to his country. He is always "sick", says Doc, and the sickness is called homesickness. When the squad reaches India, he is temporarily cured when he meets a woman — a married hotelier who had once studied in Baltimore, Maryland — but he becomes sick again when the squad moves on.
- Rudy Chassler - Dies from injuries sustained after stepping on a landmine.
- Jim Pederson - A religious man, who dies in rice a paddy after being shot multiple times by the door gunners in the Chinook that dropped the platoon there. As he dies, he attempts to shoot down the Chinook. He carries postcard pictures of Christ with him.
- Oscar Johnson - Black soldier in the Third Squad. He said that the Vietnam cold made him think of Detroit in the month of May, "lootin' weather." It is suggested that Johnson may not be from Detroit at all, despite his ghetto posturing—his mail comes from and goes to Maine, and one of his nicknames is "the nigga from Ba Haba."
- Chris Haninnen- shot himself in the foot to escape active duty in Vietnam.