The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
Mary Anne Bell
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Mary Anne is the embodiment of American arrogance in Vietnam. She arrives dressed in her pink sweater and culottes, fresh faced and curious:
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)
She wants to know about everything. She treats the deep-rooted conflict as a holiday, blithely treating a Viet Cong stronghold like a tourist town and swimming in a river that's possibly surrounded by snipers. Just like the Americans who thought the war would be easy and over quickly, she thinks she can't be touched.
But she is touched. She's sucked into Vietnam, and she ultimately can't leave. She doesn't want to. Just learning about the country isn't enough. She wants to consume it:
"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)
And, eventually, she slips away from the soldiers – she's not on their side anymore – and stalks through the night, dealing death.