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Vietnam and BeyondTim O'Brien and the Power of Storytelling$
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Stefania Ciocia

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9781846318207

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846317767

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date: 20 November 2017

Trauma, Gender and the Poetics of Uncertainty

Trauma, Gender and the Poetics of Uncertainty

Chapter:
(p.123) 4 Trauma, Gender and the Poetics of Uncertainty
Source:
Vietnam and Beyond
Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.5949/UPO9781846317767.005

This chapter analyses O'Brien's poetics and narrative techniques. It shows that his writing choices are inextricably connected to the ineffable experience of trauma, and to an engagement with cultural perceptions/representations of gender, and is organized as follows. The first part shows how O'Brien rejects the association, common in the literature of the conflict, between Vietnam and the image of the vagina dentate. His symbolic topography instead privileges the non-gendered trope of the cloaca – most famously visible in the image of the shit field, the prime locus of trauma in The Things They Carried – as a correlative of the horror of war. The second part examines the difficult communication dynamics at work between those with experience of the war, and those who have remained ‘in the world’. The third part considers O'Brien's concern with the universal longing for love, and the pain and frustration that accompany the traumatized subjects' difficulty in forming and maintaining healthy emotional relationships. These themes are the focus of O'Brien's three comic novels – The Nuclear Age, Tomcat in Love, and July, July – which have been ignored by academic readers and literary commentators.

Keywords:   poetics, narrative technique, Vietnam, war, love, trauma

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