Introing Dien Cai Dau - Reynolds 1 Greg Reynolds Chris Chen...

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Reynolds 1 Greg Reynolds Chris Chen English R1A 11 December 2008 Shades of Grey Upon first glance Dien Cai Dau by Yosef Komunyakaa seems like a complete denunciation of every aspect of the Vietnam War as Komunyakaa discusses the destruction of nature, racism and segregation amongst the troops, and the troops’ objectified relationships with women. However, Komunyakaa displays an undercurrent of ambivalence towards his subject, as many poems provide contradictory portrayals of nature as a guardian or protector, and of social interactions that briefly overcome racism, misogyny and xenophobia. Although Komunyakaa shows many signs of condemning the Vietnam War, his ambiguous themes and often neutral journalistic tone demonstrate a strong commitment to both unflinching reportage and the representation of social contradictions. Many of the poems in Dien Cai Dau focus on nature’s multiple roles in the Vietnam War. Nature becomes a victim in “Report from the Skull’s Diorama” in which napalm has reduced the environment to “a field of black trees” on a “charred landscape” (Komunyakaa 47). Komunyakaa shows nature at the mercy of the soldiers as “the APC rolls with curves of the land…crushing trees & grass” (19). Within this role nature is constrained to being merely setting which cannot resist invasion and destruction. Komunyakaa uses nature’s ruin as a foil to criticize the war, however nature’s other roles do not act in this disapproving manner. Nature playing a victim contrasts sharply with nature acting as an antagonist to the soldiers. In “Tunnels” a labyrinth of hellish tunnels confines a lone soldier and forces him to
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Reynolds 2 endure “lice, shit, maggots, & vapor of pestilence” (Komunyakaa 5). At times nature may be powerless but when the setting moves into a “river of darkness” (5) the soldier finds himself at the caprice of nature as “every cornered shadow has a life/ to bargain with.” “Tunnels” captures a point in time where nature combats the soldiers, acting as their opponent. Nature plays a protector and guardian for its final role if Dien Cai Dau . The same nature that the soldiers destroy and fight also protects them in several poems. In “Thanks” nature defends the speaker from an enemy with a rifle by creating a “vague white flower/ that pointed to the gleaming metal” (44) In “Camouflaging the Chimera” nature provides the speaker with somewhere to hide: “ we wove/ ourselves into the terrain, / content to be a hummingbird’s target” (3). In this role nature is both active, contrasting to its victim role, and aids the speakers of the poems, contrasting with nature’s antagonist role. Although this set of roles seems mutually exclusive, each persona contributes, in some manner, to the wider trend
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This note was uploaded on 09/07/2009 for the course HISTORY 6b taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '08 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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Introing Dien Cai Dau - Reynolds 1 Greg Reynolds Chris Chen...

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