Understanding the Vietnam War in In Country

By Shaho Hassanpour

Sam’s discovery of herself ends the quest of finding information about her father and the Vietnam War. Knowing what the war was like from sources cannot fully help us to understand the real War in Vietnam.


Understanding the Vietnam War in In Country

By Shaho Hassanpour


The novel In Country (1985) by Bobbie Ann Mason tells the story of a young girl, named Sam Hughes, who wants to know about her father who died in the Vietnam War and the history of the war. In order to uncover this, she asks the member of her family and other veterans who have taken part in the Vietnam War, but she fails to reveal the reality. Nobody wants to tell her about the situation in Vietnam. Throughout the novel, readers learn that Sam’s quest for the truth about her father and the Vietnam War concludes instead with the discovery of herself.

To achieve her goal, Sam tries to find the answer she looking for by asking her mother, Irene. But Irene does not want to talk about her first husband, Dwayne. “I was married him a month and I hardly remember him” (167). Sam’s uncle, Emmett, who took part in the War, tells her about things he wants to remember. “ … Sam had a picture of Vietnam in her mind from Emmett’s story, a pleasant countryside, something like Florida” (51). Emmett is always silent because he wants to protect Sam. He tells Sam that she cannot learn from the past. “The main thing you learn from history is that you can’t learn from history. That is what history is” (226).

On the other hand, Sam tries to imagine the situation in Vietnam. “… Sam tried to imagine three men fighting in the jungles” (48). TV programmes also make Sam imagine some situations that her father must have faced in Vietnam. For the first time she watches the evening report news from Vietnam on the first colour TV, but this does not satisfied her, so she keeps on searching for more facts so as to understand the real reality.

Another source of Sam’s information is her father’s dairy and letters Irene allows Sam to read those letters her father sends her from the Vietnam. After reading the letters, she becomes disappointed. The letters had nothing to do with the War. Here is an example: “The mosquitoes are eating me alive! But that’s the worst so far. I reckon I will make it (180). Sam finds a more detailed version of the War and her father’s life in the dairy her grandparent give her. When she reads the dairy, she finds that her father is neither such a man as she imagined from her letters, nor is he the one she read about her from her family. Sam’s grandmother, Mamaw, said that her son was thoughtfulest son she could ever have (196). The dairy exposes more about her father than what she wants to know. Sam considers her father’s fear, confusion for the first time. Sam ashamed of having such a father and tells Emmett that she hates her father because of the way he talks about gooks and keeling (221). Consequently, she decided to experience something like the Vietnam War for herself. As a result of this revolution, she decides the only way to know her father could be in one of the veterans’ words. “Stop thinking about Vietnam Sambo. You don’t know how it was, and never will. There is no way you can understand. So just forget it. Unless you’ve been the boonies, you don’t know” (136).

Finally, Sam camps out in the swamp to find her own reality. What does she learn from her experience in the swamp? Sam learns that she would never feel how veterans felt in Vietnam. Emmett says to her, “There are things you can figure out, but most things you can’t”. He waved at the dark swamp. “There are things that you can never figure out” (226). Following Sam’s experience in the swamp, Emmett thinks it would be a great idea to go to Washington to visit the Vietnam War Memorial. At the memorial place, while Sam is looking for her fathers’ name, she comes across her own name. At this moment she realizes that she has a meaning in the war. “SAM A HUGHES”. It is the first on line. It is down enough to touch. She touches her own name. How odd it feels, as though all the names in America have been used to decorate this wall” (254). Sam’s discovery of herself ends the quest of finding information about her father and the Vietnam War. Knowing what the war was like from sources cannot fully help us to understand the real War in Vietnam.


In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason (1985-08-03): Amazon.co.uk: Books