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Our surrounding influence our lives and characters as much as fate, destiny or any supernatural agency. Some surroundings can be very extreme, one of those would be to live in a war era. One great example would be the novel “The things they carried” (by Tim O’Brien) as it presents us with a blunt view of the Vietnam war. Each story in the book presents us with a new direction on how human mind deal with situations like death, life, war and friendship, but no story struck me as quite hard as “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”. One of the main character is “Mary Anne Bell” who O’Brien uses as an example to develop his theme on how a human nature changes while reacting to different cultural, physical or environmental factors.             Very early in the story, O’Brien establishes the theme (how certain surroundings affect our lives and characters) through the description of geographical surroundings. The setting takes place in a small medical detachment up in the mountains west of Chu Lai, near the village of Tra Bong (pg86) where one of the young medics named Mark Fossie made some arrangements to bring his girlfriend (Mary Anne Bell) to the base. O’Brien describes the base to be surrounded by forests and mountains. He also states that, since it is a forest area it was heavily mined, thick with Bouncing Betties and homemade booby traps. By setting up the theme (how Mary Anne’s behavior changed due to her surroundings), O’Brien tries to paint a picture in our mind of the surroundings and the thick forest around the base, which would later be used as one of the reasons of changes in Mary Anne’s behavior.              According to the story, in the starting the days went by very slowly and both of them (Mark Fossie and Mary Anne) had a happy and beautiful relationship, but as the days gradually passed Mary Anne started disappearing at nights and soon we find out that she had been sneaking around out to the nature with the Greenies (A squad of six Green Berets who used the compound as a base of operations), until one day she got soo obsessed with nature that she left everyone completely. Later it becomes clear that that the change was slow but significant. This is how O’Brien changes the theme from environmental to physical, as he states that the war changed her. It changed a bubbly, joyful girl into a monster that no longer belonged to herself; she belonged to the war and the jungle. She wasn’t worried about how she looked anymore. Her blond hair was cut short and wrapped in bandana. She had stopped wearing jewelry; until she started wearing a necklace of human tongues. By describing what she had become, O’Brien is trying to show the effects of war on a normal person, a civilian, someone who does not belong where she is.           One of the other main changes, O’Brien is trying to symbolize is cultural. In this story, O’Brien paints a highly conventionalized version of Vietnam as a world that deeply affects the foreign Americans who live in it. He outlines a strong difference between the native world of Vietnam and the world of the Americans. Mary Anne Bell fully embraces Vietnamese culture, while Mark Fossie ignores it. The difference between their experiences sets up a world in which the separate cultures are completely foreign to, and incompatible with each other. O’Brien does not suggest that one can assimilate elements of each culture into a comfortable mix. Rather, the characters must choose a single cultural identity.The ending of the story is unknown, as O’Brien leaves out the conclusion to the tale about Mary Anne. Rather then allowing us to know what becomes of someone (like himself) who undergoes a violent loss of innocence, we are left wondering how war affects a person, and to what ends of time that person will continue to feel its effect. One piece of knowledge that O’Brien tries to teach us from Mary Anne’s story is that once innocence is lost, it can never be regained.

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