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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The letters Richie writes home symbolize his changing
attitude toward the myths of war. At first, he fully believes in
these myths and has little trouble writing home, sending carefree
and optimistic messages about the coming truce and the souvenirs
he plans to bring home with him. Once in Vietnam, as the illusions
begin to fade, Richie suddenly finds writing to be a painful exercise.
Confused by the sharp difference between the myth and reality of
war, he finds himself at a loss for words. His letters strike him
as dishonest, since they avoid the difficult issues and take on
false and often humorous tones. Richie struggles to reconcile his
earlier beliefs with his current experiences and finds himself unable
to communicate his thoughts and feelings. As his confusion disperses
and he forces himself to see war in all its stark, brutal reality,
he is finally able to write a truthful and frank letter. Richie’s
letters once again become an honest representation of his thoughts
and feelings, indicating that he has sorted out the chaos, gained
a clear perspective, and is ready to seek out truths about war and
In the midst of one terrible battle, when time is short
and the men must evacuate immediately, they are forced to burn the
bodies of the victims. In the tumult to escape, they lose the dog
tags—military identification tags—of these dead soldiers and are
left with no physical evidence of these men’s lives and deaths.
The loss of the dog tags is highly symbolic, emphasizing the complete
anonymity and obscurity of a soldier’s death. It illustrates the
tragedy of any lost soldier; though the myths may claim that each
soldier dies with dignity and meaning, in reality some soldiers
die in obscurity, with no reason for their deaths aside from pure
chance. Richie comes to understand that each soldier’s death swallows
up his previous victories and sacrifices, which are anonymous and
War movies are full of worn-out notions about war that
are common in American popular culture. As such, they are both a
primary source and a symbol of the mythology of warfare that pervades civilian
life, which includes clichés such as the tragic death of the baby-faced
virgin soldier or the consistently positive portrait of the black
soldier. These films reveal the American tendency to beautify and
romanticize real wartime tragedies, attaching false meaning to deaths
that are often senseless, random, and brutal. Such movies also tend
to force the two sides of the conflict into clear divisions—black
and white, good and evil, right and wrong—even though the nature
of war is often highly ambiguous, with the seemingly just or moral
cause not always emerging as the victorious one. Lobel’s obsession
with movies suggests that he seeks to glorify war. He does not really
understand war’s true nature, and he perhaps does not even wish
to understand it. Rather, he prefers to believe in a romanticized
notion of war in which soldiers are heroic and enjoy the deep bonds
of camaraderie with their fellow men in life and are afforded dignity
Ace your assignments with our guide to Fallen Angels!