Notes and Quotes – “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, Tim O’Brien


Notes – “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”:

The allure of identity, of self-actualization, becomes a drug like no other. Rat tells the story of Mary Anne Bell, the sweetheart and non-combatant set loose in the jungles of Vietnam. The environment changes the person, and Mary Anne is no exception. Wanting, needing, craving, Mary Anne perhaps turns more feral than wild, but, however she identified herself before the Vietnam experience, that person was just a dim shadow of what she becomes. Friendly and good-natured traits are replaced with ferocity and predatory instincts. As Rat tells the story, his audience reminds him of his responsibilities as the storyteller if anyone is to listen at all.


Quotes – “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”:

 “Rat had a reputation for exaggeration and overstatement, a compulsion to rev up the facts,” . . . . “facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you’d find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute and then multiplying by maybe.” (85)

“‘A real tiger,’ said Eddie Diamond. ‘D-cup guts, trainer-bra brains.’” (92)

“There were dark smudges under his eyes, the frayed edges of somebody who hadn’t slept in a while.” (95)

“What you have to do, Sanders said, is trust your own story. Get the hell out of the way and let it tell itself.” (101)

“‘All that crap about how if we had a pussy for president there wouldn’t be no more wars. Pure garbage. You got to get rid of that sexist attitude.’” (102)

“You need to get a consistent sound, like slow or fast, funny or sad. All these digressions, they just screw up your story’s sound. Stick to what happened.

‘Tone?’ he’d say. ‘I didn’t know it was all that complicated. The girl joined the zoo. One more animal – end of story.’

‘Yeah, fine. But tell it right.’” (102)

“At the girl’s throat was a necklace of human tongues.” (105)

“‘Man, you must be deaf. She’s already gone.’” (107)

“‘This elaborate story, you can’t say, Hey, by the way, I don’t know the ending. I mean, you got certain obligations.’” (107)

“‘There it is, you got to taste it, and that’s the thing with Mary Anne. She was there. She was up to her eyeballs in it. After the war, man, I promise, you won’t find nobody like her.’”  (108)

“‘What happened to her, Rat said, was what happened to all of them. You come over clean and you get dirty and then afterward it’s never the same.” (109)

“‘She wanted more, she wanted to penetrate deeper into the mystery of herself, and after a time the wanting became needing, which turned then to craving.’” (109)

“She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill.” (110)



2 Responses to Notes and Quotes – “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, Tim O’Brien

  1. Absolutely the BEST story I have ever read, I have watched the movie at least 20 times (or more) and NEVER tire of it. After seeing the movie, I bought ‘The Things They Carried’ back in ’99 and that was the only story I read, I came accross the book the other day and started at the beginning, all I can say is that it is a awesome book, I, for one, would like to walk in Mary Ann’s shoes just for one day.

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