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Vietnam Writing

The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, Sticks and Bones, Streamers, Indians

The Vietnam War spawned a great range of cultural, poetic, and literary representations, as people sought to articulate the experiences of the conflict. The works frequently make new projections of mythic consciousness as attempts to extend the collective memory into new contexts of perception about the war. Among the dramatic works several plays have emerged by David Rabe, amongst them The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1973), Sticks and Bones (1973), and Streamers (1977), all of which seek to explore the effects of the Vietnam War on American life. Arthur Kopit's Indians (1969) was a symbolic exploration of the war's relationship to a larger body of collective mythic assumptions, set as it is in Buffalo Bill's America with the killing and hunting down of American Indians. Various books of poems have been published, including two anthologies of poems by veterans, Demilitarized Zones: Veterans after Vietnam (1976) and Winning Hearts and Minds (1972), together with Michael Casey's Obscenities (1972), D. C. Berry's Saigon Cemetery (1972), John Balaban's After Our War (1974), and Bruce Weigl's A Romance (1979) among the more prominent works. In addition, there are the protest poems of the anti-war demonstrators like Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, Robert Lowell, and Walter Lowenfels. Among the many documentaries and analyses of the war is Michael Herr's Dispatches (1977), an account of the war which is represented as a venture into a strange midworld suspended somewhere between ‘reality’ and ‘art’; Dispatches has become one of the most influential literary texts of the war and an important example of the New Journalism and of post-modernism. Other works in this area are C. D. B. Bryan's Friendly Fire (1976), which depicts the anguish of an Iowa family over the loss of a son killed by his own artillery; Gloria Emerson's Winners and Losers (1976), which goes directly to the experiential heart of the war in an angry polemical work; Norman Mailer's Why Are We In Vietnam? (1967); and Mary McCarthy's trilogy of books dealing with Vietnam. The fiction has been prolific, notable examples of which are Tim O'Brien's If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973), an account of a young infantry-man's passage through a year at war rendered as an odyssey through cultural myths; Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers (1974), which demonstrates how the war anger spread into the American landscape with returning soldiers; the soldier memoirs of Ron Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July (1976) and Philip Caputo's A Rumour of War (1977); and the oral histories in Mark Baker's Nam (1981) and Al Santoli's Everything We Had (1981). Other more traditional combat novels include David Halberstam's One Very Hot Day (1967); Josiah Bunting's The Lionheads (1972); Ronald Glasser's short narratives in 365 Days (1971); Robert Roth's Sand in the Wind (1973); Charles Durden's No Bugles, No Drums (1976); William Pelfrey's The Big V (1972), a story about three college boys' attitudes and initiation into war; Larry Heinemann's Close Quarters (1977); Gustav Hasford's The Short-Timers (1979), about the experiences of members of an infantry platoon; Stephen Wright's Meditations in Green (1983); and James Webb's Fields of Fire (1978). In William Eastlake's The Bamboo Bed (1969) and Tim O'Brien's Going after Cacciato (1978), the war is represented as a surreal fantasy and nightmare.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Richard Vaughan Biography to Rosanna Warren Biography