Madeline A. Lee
27 July 2014
A Rumor of War: A Literary Analysis
Philip Caputo’s memoir, A Rumor of War, depicts the life altering experience of the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of a young man who has only just graduated from high school. After serving his time in the war, seeing all of its horrors, and losing several comrades, Caputo returns home a changed man who has narrowly escaped dying in a war that he believes was fought for no reason. Throughout the course of this work, he describes numerous scenarios that are the makings of a mentally unstable man. Caputo’s journey into the depths of insanity is best represented by the parallel of his journey into the dense, mysterious jungles of Vietnam. As a young teenager joining the fight against Communism, Caputo begins this endeavor in what would be considered a “normal” mental state. He, like every boy his age, is intrigued by the concept of going to war to fight the Vietnamese and return home a hero that will be welcomed back with applause and appreciation. "We went overseas full of illusions, for which the intoxicating atmosphere of those years was as much to blame as our youth." (Caputo xii). This false sense of the romanticism of war contributes to his initial lean towards instability because it allows Caputo to begin the war in a world that still protects him from the harsh realities that have yet to be witnessed as he enters Vietnam. Caputo’s journey into his mind’s jungle continues as he completes basic training and actually enters the war. While he and his fellow soldiers do not see much action initially, the skirmishes with groups of Viet Cong set them on edge. There are casualties and deaths that come of this, but Caputo feels only the mere beginnings of the effect of this traumatic stress after one of his closer friends, Sullivan, is killed by sniper fire. This lingering sorrow for Sullivan and the new family that was awaiting him back home weighs on Caputo as he takes on his new post as casualty officer. Once in his new assignment, Caputo is exposed to dead bodies on a daily basis. Even though he is no longer on the front lines, he has spent even more time at war and his inner psyche is becoming more fragile. He is still in the jungle, he does not have any form of a safe place to retire to, and he is surrounded by this constant horrific scene. He goes on to admit that seeing these bodies is affecting his sleep and taking a large psychological toll on him. During his stint as casualty officer, one task in particular sends Caputo over the edge to the point of naming himself “Officer of the Dead”. This task is to prepare four dead Viet Cong soldiers as a sort of tribute for the General upon his arrival to the base. Rather than burying these bodies as per protocol, he is forced to practically mingle with rotting corpses as they are paraded around in an effort to desensitize the other soldiers. Caputo’s next major step into his jungle of insanity occurs when he is forced to identify three dead soldiers from his old battalion. These soldiers then proceed to haunt him in his dreams as he sees them as they were when they were killed. The images persist and even appear as hallucinations later on. After this, Caputo is forced to split his personality into two people, the wild man who lives in the dark jungle of his mind, and the man with a sane façade that is journeying further into the tangible Vietnam jungles. He is losing grasp of what is reality and actually poses a threat to his life and what is his mind playing tricks on him, “Psychologically, I had never felt worse. I had been awake for no more than a few … being afraid when there was no reason to be” (Caputo 336). The addition of sleep deprivation and paranoia create the perfect storm for Caputo to slip away. At this point, he has undoubtedly lost his way in the “jungle”. The real breaking point in Caputo’s sanity comes when he and Allen are pursuing two Viet...
Cited: Caputo, Philip. A Rumor of War. New York: Random House, 1977. Print.
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