Character Analysis Mary Anne Bell


Even more than the American soldiers in Vietnam, Mary Anne Bell represents the outsider, someone who does not belong where she is. Like Rat Kiley's disturbed response to conducting operations only during the night in "Night Life," the story of Mary Anne emphasizes what happens when someone's surroundings affect her. Mary Anne is also emblematic of transformation, specifically, the loss of innocence to experience. Similar to how the "green" medic Jorgenson is apt to make mistakes, Mary Anne is greener than any man in the novel. She arrives in Vietnam not only unprepared for war but also not intending to take part in it. Her transformation from a pretty girl wearing culottes to an animal-like hunter who wears a necklace of tongues parallels and exaggerates the change all young men went through in Vietnam, such as "O'Brien" who went from a boy who liked school to the man who plotted a sadistic revenge against Jorgenson.

O'Brien leaves out the conclusion to the tale about Mary Anne, instead letting her character pass into the realm of folklore. Rather than allowing us to know what becomes of someone (like himself) who undergoes a violent loss of innocence, we are left wondering how war affects a person, and to what ends of time that person will continue to feel its effect. The one piece of "knowledge" that Mary Anne's story teaches us is that once innocence is lost, it can never be regained. Unlike O'Brien or Bowker, however, when Mary Anne loses her innocence, she becomes an agent of primal instinct.

Finally, Mary Anne is the most real example of love in the novel. Although Lt. Cross and Henry Dobbins carry keepsakes that remind them of love, Mark Fossie is the only soldier who brings his girl to him. Mary Anne's rapid descent from girlfriend and lover to warrior is the most blatant example in the novel of O'Brien linking love and war. Truth, to O'Brien, is an emotion, like Alpha Company believing in the story of Mary Anne when they knew they could not fully trust its storyteller, Rat Kiley. To O'Brien, love and war are not just connected; love and war are the same in that both refuse to let life interfere with emotion. Mary Anne is one of the "truest" characters in the novel because she lives off of her emotions and slips so easily between a posture of love and one of war.