Country Combines a Coming of Age Story Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Country combines a coming of age story with personal insights into the psychological effects of war. Haunted by her father's and uncle's experiences in Vietnam, seventeen-year-old Sam Hughes continually seeks to understand and to make real the facts surrounding her father's death. Set during the crucial summer after high school graduation, Bobbie Ann Mason's novel traces the development of its protagonist over a relatively short period of time, but offers great character insight. As her nickname suggests, Sam is a tomboyish, spunky teen who both acts and feels older than her chronological age. One of her closest friends and confidants is her veteran uncle, who she suspects suffers from Agent Orange. Sam's concerns about Emmett's health border on the obsessive, but her attempts to unearth the past equal a deeper investigation into her father. Because he died before she was born, and not much older than Sam herself, Dwayne Hughes left little clue to his identity. Sam's obsession with Vietnam is both an attempt to better understand the war and to better understand herself. As her quest leads to significant realizations about her past, it also clarifies her future.

One of the main symbols of In Country is Sam's car, which both opens and closes the narrative and also provides a turning point in the character's life. Just past the legal driving age, Sam sees her VW bug as a key to personal freedom. It opens up the possibility of leaving the confines of her small town and allows her to actualize her adventurous nature. The particular brand of car reflects Sam's preoccupation with the 1960s and suits her personality. Plus, she procured it from a Vietnam vet who she develops a crush on. The bug represents Sam's burgeoning independence, her sexual and psychological freedom, and her transcendence of the past. It is "her car," the vehicle which she can control and call her own (p. 3).

Significantly, Sam's mother Irene helped pay for the Volkswagen. Irene seems like a distant mother because she left Sam and Emmett in Hopewell for a new life in Lexington. Just as Sam identifies with older generations, Irene identifies with youth and prances around in revealing clothes, high heels, and a new Trans Am. At 37, she has a new baby with Sam's stepfather. Sam's slight resentment of her mother leads to an eventual understanding of their common bonds. When Irene drove Emmett home from Lexington, it offered the mother and daughter to rediscover their connection. Sam, especially, realizes the similarities in their characters. Irene is adventurous, and though less introspective and thoughtful than Sam, shares with her daughter a need to escape the restrictions of small-town life. Sam has also been powerfully influenced by her mother's hippie past and her taste in music. Although she watches MTV and is inundated with 80s rock, Sam prefers the sounds of the 60s and values her mother's old Beatles and Kinks records. Ironically, Irene outgrew the 60s as Sam rediscovers it as a key to her past.

M*A*S*H is also a central symbol in Country for obvious reasons. Because Sam is obsessed with the Vietnam War, M*A*S*H offers visual insight into life in a Southeast Asian army camp. Attempting to piece together remnants of the past by watching episodes of the TV show and films like Apocalypse Now, Sam nurtures her already overactive imagination. However, the relative reticence of the real-life veterans in her life frustrates her and forces her to form her own conclusions about life during the war. Through watching M*A*S*H, Sam wonders whether "war was attractive," (p. 55). Her vivid imagination forms a picture of Vietnam that is only shattered when she finally reads her father's journal. The coldhearted accounts of his killing do exactly what Sam wanted: they make Vietnam real. She gleans more from the journal than she could from TV, books, or movies, not because Dwayne's writing was descriptive but for exactly the opposite reason. Dwayne's accounts of…

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