The Anti-War Message Tim O’Brien’s “In the Lake of the Woods” and Julia Alvarez’s “How I Learned to Sweep” are two classic examples of protest literary works. As an art form, both the works apply aesthetics in presenting ideas that basically oppose the policies of the government…
In terms of style, both authors definitely differ and this can be attributed also to the fact that the historical context of the novel and poem are not the same. In terms of substance also these works have differences, which derive from the difference in social, emotional, and historical context in which the characters exist. But more significantly, the differences also stem from the fact the involvement of these authors in the war that they are protesting against also differs. Nevertheless, both these writers have been able to articulate their opposition to the war in a profound manner through the portrayal of appropriate characters and situations in their works. “In the Lake of the Woods” narrates the story of an individual’s struggle to deal with the memories of the Vietnam War even after it draws to a conclusion. One can consider O’Brien to be an authority on the subject as he has served in Vietnam as an infantryman during the war. He not only has witnessed the bloodshed but he has been directly involved in it. Thus, O’Brien also shares the trauma that other American servicemen experienced while fighting a war, which they believe is unjustified and futile. The feeling of guilt a soldier suffers, for engaging in a war that he opposes, becomes palpable due to the intensity of his personal experience. The readers are able to connect with the story more actively as the author’s opposition to the war is presented through the perspective of the soldier and not from the vantage point of the anti-war activists, who were more popular during the times when the Vietnam War was at its peak. Thus, his arguments against the war, founded on psychological and emotional manifestations, remain highly credible and convincing. He may have cited J W Appel and G W Beebe when he writes, “Psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as gunshot and shrapnel wounds in warfare” (O’Brien 27). However, he does not because he believes that such a conclusion is intellectually accurate. He has seen his comrades suffer psychological problems resulting from the war and he himself may have experienced the anguish of going through such mental agonies. John Wade, the main character in the story, can be construed as a personification of O’Brien’s argument against the war. It must be emphasized though that such argument are best defended and promoted only when psychological issues arise, which obviously occur after the individual returns home from battlefront. This condition, which is often regarded as post-traumatic stress disorder, can be devastating to an individual. On the other hand, the conditions surrounding Julia Alvarez are much different to those of O’Brien. Her poem, “How I Learned to Sweep,” is greatly influenced by these. Alvarez looks at the war from the perspective of a non-participant. She finds the war disgusting not because it directly affects her personally. She does not suffer psychological or emotional traumas arising from a war but she does perceive the violence and bloodshed that soldiers have to go through while fighting a war. Whereas O’Brien witnesses the horrors that his fellow soldiers go through, Alvarez expresses pity for both the fighters and civilians caught in the war. O’Brien’s work is the result of his empathy while Alvarez displays sympathy in her poem when she writes, “I swept all the harder when/ I watched a dozen of them die.” Obviously, the poet is illustrating her reaction on the sight of so much death. Alvarez ...
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