Fear and Duty in Going After Cacciato
Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato might be set during the Vietnam war, but at its core it is a novel about fear. The main character, soldier Paul Berlin, is completely motivated, controlled, and surrounded by fear. When Paul Berlin first arrives at the war he feels annoyed by the derision he receives from his superiors but at the same time admits that “...the war scared him silly, but this was something he hoped to bring under control” (O'Brein 38). This statement sets in motion the events and thoughts that dominate the entirety of the book. Paul Berlin realizes that in order to be happy he must control his fear. However, his fears do not simply extend to the natural fears of war and dying. As he gushes out in the final pages of the book, Paul Berlin fears running away, going into exile, the thoughts of those he loves, the loss of reputation, and most of all cowardice. Paralyzed by fear, Paul Berlin can do little more than go through the motions of the war; walking from place to place, playing basketball, observing the other soldiers. While floating through his tour, he struggles with the sense that his actions have no affect on his world and life. Finally, in one action, Paul Berlin manages to affect the outcome of his time in Vietnam by killing is commanding officer, a good man by the name of Sidney Martin. Haunted by the memory of these actions, he can barely come to describe the events, going up to the point where he agrees to kill the lieutenant before skipping away to another topic. Torn apart by the knowledge of what he has done he ponders over what his duty entails and how he can be happy. To answer these questions, Paul Berlin imagines a fantasy in which he and his squad mates travel the world chasing down Cacciato, essential deserting the war and going to Paris. Paul Berlin uses his fantasy of going after Cacciato to discover for himself how to deal with his own fear and find inner peace by exploring his own...
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