The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried Foreignness and 'the Other' Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Story Title.Paragraph)
"You just don't know," she said. "You hide in this little fortress, behind wire and sandbags, and you don't know… Sometimes I want to eat this place. […] That's how I feel. It's like this appetite. I get scared sometimes – lots of times – but it's not bad. You know? I feel close to myself. When I'm out at night, I feel close to my own body, I can feel my blood moving, my skin and fingernails, everything, it's like I'm full of electricity and I'm glowing in the dark – I'm on fire almost – I'm burning away into nothing – but it doesn't matter because I know exactly who I am. You can't feel like that anywhere else." (Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.150)
Mary Anne is inexorably, or unavoidably, drawn to the Other – the Other in this case not being the Vietnamese, but the Vietnam War itself. She's not totally a part of it yet (that comes later) but she's sure fascinated by it. She shows the danger of throwing away all separation between herself and the Other. She's at the point where she wants to become the Other.
"Mary Anne made you think about those girls back home, how clean and innocent they all are, how they'll never understand any of this, not in a billion years." (Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.173)
Even as completely creepy as Mary Anne has become, the men still love her because she understands a part of them that girls at home never will. They're stuck in between American and Vietnam; in each place, they feel foreign. They're foreign in Vietnam because they can never completely embrace the war in the way that Mary Anne has, and they're foreign in America because no one there will ever truly get what they what through.
[Mary Anne] had crossed to the other side. She was part of the land. She was wearing her culottes, her pink sweater, and a necklace of human tongues. She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill. (Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.184)
So, at this point, Mary Anne seems to have completely crossed over – a necklace of human tongues, hello?? – yet she's still wearing her culottes and her pink sweater, those pieces of clothing that made her seem so American at the beginning of the story. Again, the Other, for her, is not the Vietnamese, even though it seemed so at the beginning. It's not even Vietnam. It's the war itself – half-Vietnamese, half-American, and horrifyingly violent.