The Story Of Sweetheart Of The Song

Of Tra Bong: The Use Of Setting Essay, Research Paper The Story of Sweetheart of the Song of Tra Bong: The Use of Setting Where does the story of Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong take place?

Of Tra Bong: The Use Of Setting Essay, Research Paper

The Story of Sweetheart of the Song of Tra Bong: The Use of Setting

Where does the story of Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong take place?

Upon reading the story, one would first assume that it takes place in Vietnam.

Upon further examination, however, it becomes quite evident that it really takes

place inside Rat Kiley’s head. This isn’t to declare the story false; instead,

one should examine the influence and literary freedom that Rat flexes upon the

truth. “For Rat Kiley? facts were formed by sensation, not the other way

around.” (101) The story occurs in two separate but equally chaotic places:

Vietnam, and Rat’s head. The story intertwines between the two settings, and in

order to completely grasp the idea behind them, one must first recognize, then

separate and analyze the two settings.

Upon the first reading of this work, the reader finds himself dropping

into the story of a seemingly misplaced girl in Vietnam. The role of Rat Kiley

seems somewhat minor and irrelevant. Upon the second and third times through,

however, his role as the storyteller stands out. It becomes more evident that

he holds Mary Anne with the highest regard. He romanticizes her relationship

with the war. He is so amazed with the fact that a girl can be seduced by the

lure of the wilderness that he begins to talk about her with the listeners as if

she were the attractive girl from school that everyone knows but nobody dates.

” ‘You know?I loved her. Mary Anne made you think about those girls back home,

how clean and innocent they all are.’ ” (123) Rat is pushing his views upon

the listener. He is shaping how the story is seen. The reader sees “triple-

canopied jungle, mountains unfolding into higher mountains, ravines and gorges

and fast-moving rivers and waterfalls and exotic butterflies and steep cliffs

and smoky little hamlets and great valleys of bamboo and elephant grass.” (103)

The actual reality of the situation is added by the narrator, as extrapolated

from Rat: that they were in an almost completely indefensible situation. Had

somebody cared enough to take control of the little base, there would be no

resistance. Rat wanted to let the reader know his opinion on the citizens of

the Viet Cong, how he wants the listener to think of them. “Mary Anne asked,

‘They’re human beings, aren’t they? Like everybody else?’ Fossie nodded. He

loved her.” (107) Rat lets us know that he thinks the VC are less then human.

Why did Fossie nod, in Rat’s opinion? Not because he thought Fossie felt she was

right, but because he loved her. Because Rat feels that the VC are subhuman,

part of the jungle, he sees Fossie’s nod as a patronizing nod to an unknowing

inductee to the jungle. Rat, at every turn, tries to “make [the truth] burn so

hot that you would feel exactly what he felt.” (101) Rat makes the reader

constantly want to love Vietnam, to love the intricacies of the jungle, to love

the trill of danger and imminent threat of death. ” ‘It’s like trying to tell

somebody what chocolate tastes like.’ ” (123) The audience gets a somewhat

gentle reminder from Mitchell Sanders, as he declares ” ‘Or shit.’ ” (123) “But

Rat Kiley couldn’t help it. He wanted to bracket the full range of meaning.”

(116) Rat wants to inject within the reader a love similar to his toward Mary

Anne. He wants the reader to want to become one with the jungle. He wants the

reader to understand that there is a base human connection with nature, and that

one doesn’t have to be a man to feel it. It isn’t about man vs. woman, it’s

about humans vs. nature. Everybody comes in without a clue. They get their

view on the future and humanity raped away by the deflowering of reality in the

jungle. They begin to understand what matters and what doesn’t. On it’s

superficial level, Song Tra Bong is about a story. This story takes place

within a character. Rat “had a tendency to stop now and then, interrupting the

flow, inserting little clarifications or bits of analysis and personal opinion.”

(116) Rat molded the view of the story. He shows the reader what Rat deems

important, and he constantly adds his own twist to it all. As he said, he loved

her. He is going to put her on a pedestal for the world to view and appreciate.

On the top, the character (at this level, the only one that matters) is the

setting. Just as Vietnam had it’s oddities and tendencies, Rat’s mind had it’s

own pockmarked landscape with it’s own jungles and rain forests.

Now that one has identified the skew of the stained glass window the

story is viewed the through, one can begin to fully appreciate what happened to

Mary Anne, and the conflict she encounters. She finds herself torn between the

civilized world which has her long time love, and the uncivilized world, Vietnam

where she can exist in her purest form. There is a slow transition, as she

appears in preppy clothes, and she moves to “the habits of the bush. No

cosmetics, no fingernail filing. She stopped wearing jewelry, cut her hair short

and wrapped it in a dark green bandanna.” (109) She finishes in a bizarre

fashion, wearing her culottes, pink sweater, and tongue necklace. “She had

crossed to the other side. She was part of the land.” (125) How does this

happen? What makes this girl who has everything she wants give it all up to

live like an animal?

Mary Anne finally shed the illusions of grandeur from home and decided

she wanted to be a woman of the bush. It all starts with natural curiosity.

Mary Anne wants to understand the ways of war. She wants to understand it’s

people. However, she inexplicably finds herself out on ambush with the Green

Berets. “The Endorphins start to flow, and the adrenaline, and you hold your

breath and creep quietly through the moonlit nightscapes; you become intimate

with danger; you’re in touch with the far side of yourself, as though it’s

another hemisphere.” (123) She is beginning to become seduced by her basic

human instincts, the ones that say “Organized society is bad. Self dependency is

good. One should live within the wilderness. One should wear a necklace of


Being set in Vietnam, such a recognizable word, one so synonymous with

war, the irony of the situation leaps off the pages. Here is a man who has been

in-country for a decent amount of time. By bringing his girlfriend over, he is

bringing into the fray somebody who has no idea of the dangers of the bush,

somebody who, being a girl, and according to modern and past military policy,

shouldn’t have been there. He should be the one who, in relation to her,

understands the war. However, this doesn’t hold true. She becomes the

understanding and wise one, as she exclaims “You hide in this little fortress,

behind wire and sandbags, and you don’t know what’s out there or what it’s all

about or how it feels to really live in it.” (121) A month earlier, he could

have told her the exact same thing to prevent her from becoming so intimate with

the country, it’s inhabitants, and the war itself.

At it’s base level, the inner core of Song Tra Bong, the interaction

between setting and character is immense. So immense, in fact, that the setting

itself becomes a character, interacting with the other characters, causing

conflict. At it’s base level, Song Tra Bong is about the land, and maturing to

return to innocence. It’s about evolving so one can devolve. It’s about

returning to the land, and it’s about the land seducing people to return to it.

” ‘Sometimes I want to eat this place. Vietnam. I want to swallow the whole

country – the dirt, the death – I just want to eat it and have it there inside

me. ? I feel close to myself.’ ” (121) Mary Anne now knows who she is. She has

found her calling.

In Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, setting is paramount. If one were

to take this story and place it in New York City, it would be laughed at. As

Mary Anne said, ” ‘You can’t feel like [this] anywhere else.’ ” (121) The story

takes place in two places. On one level, it takes place in the heart of the

jungle, deep in Vietnam. On this level, the setting plays such an important

role that it becomes a character. It seduces Mary Anne, and it talks to her.

The story also takes place in the heart of Rat Kiley. On this level, the

character influences the story in such a way that he becomes the top level

setting. In the end, ” ‘?it wasn’t all that complicated. The girl joined the

zoo. One more animal – end of story.’ ” (117) But as Mitchell Sanders not-so-

gently tells Rat ” ‘ Yeah, fine. But tell it right.’ ” (117), the reader must

also try to read it right. If the different settings are identified, separated

and analyzed, then the true idea behind the story comes out.