English Berlin, the dreamer Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato is the story of a group of soldiers that were struggling to deal with the senselessness and lack of order during the Vietnam War. Cacciato, a member of the group decided to abandon the war and walk to Paris, an impossible journey. The protagonist, Paul Berlin, invented a fantasy in which the group of soldiers did follow Cacciato all the way to Paris. Berlin dreamed and imagined the story, trading reality for myth, in an attempt to give order, sense, and purpose to the war, but the fantasy ultimately broke down because of the essential nature of the war.
It is important to note that a walking journey from Vietnam to Paris would be almost impossible for the soldiers to achieve. As one of the soldiers put it, "Nope, I dig adventure too, but you just can't get to Paris from here.
Just cant."ÃÂ(13) Aside from the impossibility of the mission, Paul Berlin could not have completed the trip because of his numerous fears: "More than any positive sense of obligation, I confess what dominates is the dread of abandoning all that I hold dear. I am afraid of running away. I am afraid of exile. I fear what might be thought of me by those I love. I fear the loss of respect. I fear the loss of my own reputation. Reputation as read in the eyes of my father and mother, the people in my hometown my friends. I fear being an outcast. I fear being thought of as a coward. I fear that more than cowardice itself.'(286) Therefore by creating the myth and imagining that he and his fellow soldiers did reach Paris, he enabled them to achieve the impossible. His fantasy allowed him to do what he could not in real life without having to face the fears.
Paul Berlin could not control his fears, but he could, however, control his imagination. Before Berlin joined the war, his father told him: "You'll see some terrible stuff, I guess, that's how it goes. But try to look for the good things too. They'll be there if you look. So watch for them. And that was what he did. Even now, figuring how things might have happened on the road to Paris, it was a way of looking for the very best of all possible outcomes. How, with luck, and courage, and endurance, they might have found a way."ÃÂ(58) Berlin essentially allowed his story to give sense and order to that which he could not control. His myth allowed him to take his father's advice and create good things in a war where the evils outweighed the good.
Paul Berlin ignored reality and created the myth in order to escape the evils of the war and the horrible atrocities that were going on in his surroundings. One such atrocity occurred along the journey to Paris when "Stink"ÃÂ Harris, a member of the group of soldiers, brutally killed an innocent water buffalo chained to a cart. "Stink was on full automatic. He was smiling. Gobs of flesh jumped off the beasts flanks."ÃÂ(47) Thus, during the war, people committed senseless acts of violence without any just reason or cause. During the chaos of the war, devoid of morals and sanity, there was no rationale for why people committed such horrible crimes. Paul Berlin created his fantasy as a means of controlling the war in his mind. In reality, he would have to struggle to cope with the senseless atrocities surrounding him, but on his imaginative journey, he could control the atrocities and give them sense, meaning and purpose.
Paul Berlin felt that there were many things wrong with the war and this caused him to escape to the world of his imagination. "In Nam there's no respect for nothing. No heart. Nobody's got his heart in it, you know? Doves on their helmets. Faking ambushes. That's the real difference. No heart."ÃÂ(138) Since Berlin's heart wasn't in the war, it was easy for him to run from the grasp of reality and escape into his fantasy. In addition to lack of heart, "He knew something was wrong with his war. The absence of a common purpose."ÃÂ(148) Therefore, Berlin imagined himself to be chasing after Cacciato in an attempt to impose purpose into his life. The myth that Berlin created, in which he and his soldiers were on a great mission to return Cacciato to the war, served to make Berlin's time in the war seem more meaningful.
While Berlin was able to live in his dream world for a long time, his fantasy eventually crumbled. Sarkin Aung Wan, a refugee traveling along with the soldiers on the road to Paris gave Berlin the advice that: "Even the refugee must do more than flee. He must arrive. He must return at last to a world as it is, however much in conflict with his hopes, and he must then do what he can to edge reality toward what he has dreamed, to change what he can change, to go beyond the wish or the fantasy"ÃÂ¦I urge you to act. Having dreamed a marvelous dream, I urge you to step boldly into it, to join you dream and live it"ÃÂ¦Do not let fear stop you."ÃÂ(284) This advice helped Berlin to realize that he could not continue to live in the world of his myth forever. It helped him recognize that he had to return to the real world, even if it did not live up to the image of what he wanted the war, and the world to be.
In an imagined peace conference Berlin recognized the limits of the myth that he created. He said: And it is this social power, the threat of social consequences, that stops me from making a complete break. Peace of mind is not a simple matter of pursuing one's own pleasure; rather it is inextricably linked to the attitudes of other human beings, to what they want, to what they expect. The real issue is to find felicity within limits. Within the context of our obligations to other people. We all want peace. We all want dignity and domestic tranquility. But we want these to be honorable and lasting. We want a peace that endures. We want a peace we can be proud of. Even in imagination we must obey the logic of what we started. Even in imagination we must be true to our obligations, for even in imagination, obligation cannot be outrun. Imagination, like reality, has its limits. (286) Thus, Berlin eventually realized that his dreams could not be made into reality. He recognized that even his imagination was limited by the obligations that he had to the war. The realities and the nature of the present war were to real for Berlin's imagination to outrun.
Throughout the creation and the different stages of his myth Berlin attempted to control the war by defining its purpose and meaning in his terms. He could not accept the war for what it really was. He realized towards the end of his journey that, "The point is that war is war no matter how it is perceived. War has its own reality. War kills and maims and rips up the land and makes orphans and widows. These are the things of war. Any war."ÃÂ(176) Berlin's dreams eventually crumbled because of the nature of war. Berlin's attempt at imposing order and sense into the war failed because in war there is no order or sense and any attempts to escape the chaos are futile.
Paul Berlin was a dreamer in the greatest sense. Trapped in a war absent of morality, order, and sense, he created a fantasy in which order, purpose, and sense could have a part. Berlin traded reality for myth and created a story in which he could live out his dreams and possibilities. His dreams, however, could not last forever because of the true characteristics of the war which he could not escape.