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Going After Cacciato

It is generally recognized that Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato (1978) is most likely the best novel of the Vietnam war, albeit an unusual one in that it innovatively combines the experiential realism of war with surrealism, primarily through the overactive imagination of the protagonist, Spec Four Paul Berlin. The first chapter of this novel is of more than usualimportance. Designed to be a self-sufficient story (McCaffery 137) and often anthologized asone, this chapter is crucial to the novel in that it not only introduces us to the characters and thesituation but also sets the tenor of the novel and reveals its author’s view of this war in relation towhich all else in the novel must be judged.In chapter 1, the plot of the entire novel is defined: A very young soldier named Cacciatodeserts, intending to walk to Paris by land. As his squad follows under orders to capture him,Paul Berlin begins his fascinating mind-journey of “going after Cacciato,” of escape from, andlater a reexamination of, the reality of war. But what is defined first, in the first two pages to beexact, is this war’s reality and its cost to the young American soldiers involved. These pages listfor us those who have died, in action and otherwise, and those who have been maimed, at timesthrough self-injury, underscoring the urgency of the desire to live. These pages also vividlydelineate for us the daily miseries and sufferings of the Vietnam war, from rain and mud to diseaseand rotting flesh, from monotony and fear to a profound sense of futility. As Paul Berlin narrates,“It was a bad time” (O’Brien 1). And the young soldiers undergo all of this while being “led” byan ill, alcoholic, misanthropic lieutenant who cannot even remember who among his youngcharges is whom, or who is dead or alive. One thing that the book misses, however, is the samesuffering, perhaps even worse, that wa...

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