The assertion, “people never change,” can be disproven as people change differently in various environments. The chapter “Sweet Heart of the Song Tra Bong” in, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, shows how Mary Anne Bell is affected by the tough conditions of war. Mark Fossie, the boyfriend of Mary Anne, tells her to fly out to Vietnam so that they can be together. Once she arrives, Mary Anne quickly reveals her curiosity by taking an interest in activities to help the squad such as cooking, caring for the injured, night patrolling, etc. Essentially, she starts to become one of the soldiers. O’Brien conveys how the violent and warlike atmosphere transforms Mary Anne physically and psychologically from a civilized and innocent girl to a barbaric and ruthless woman throughout her stay in Vietnam.
At the beginning of her stay, O’Brien portrays Mary Anne as a civilized and innocent girl by describing her physical and psychological characteristics. As Mary Anne makes her first appearance, O’Brien describes her as, “an attractive girl… [who has] terrific legs (p. 90)” suggesting that she is innocent has not experienced harsh conditions. O’Brien presents her as a sexual object in order to emphasize her innocence and unfamiliarity to war. Also, the description of her “bubbly personality” implies that she is only sees the positive in everyone which displays her naivety and innocence. O’Brien describes that Mary Anne “love[s] the thatched roofs and naked children, the wonderful simplicity of village life” implying that she is completely unaware of the hostile environment that she is in. Her unawareness and immaturity is shown because she is speaking positively about a place of violence and warfare. Towards the beginning of her stay with Mark Fossie and the rest of the crew members, Mary Anne is described as innocent and naïve. but as she continues to learn more about the war, and she begins to transform into a barbaric and ruthless woman. O’Brien is suggesting that even though she is from the city and is a part of the higher class, she has respect for and supports those who are not as fortunate.
As Mary Anne begins to learn the skills that allow her to be helpful with the war effort, the warlike environment begins to physically and psychologically transform from a civilized and innocent girl to a barbaric and ruthless woman. As the casualties begin to come in, it is discovered that “Mary Anne [isn’t] afraid to get her hands bloody” suggesting that she has a violent side and is not a typical city girl who gets easily disgusted by blood and wounds. Her openness to the gruesome and wounded bodies is surprising considering that she is a pretty, city-girl. She starts to adapt to the role of the soldier and it shows when she “stop[s] wearing jewelry (p. 94).” She abandons her fun and innocent personality and begins to adapt the more stern personality in order to be more effective with the war effort. The war causes her to change her personality into someone that is much more serious. She eventually “cuts her hair short” showing that she really wants to get away from the helpless, weak-girl impression that she has left of herself; she wants to be taken seriously. The warlike setting forces Mary Anne to become more serious; it forces her to change her physical and psychological characteristics from the civilized and innocent girl she once was into a ruthless and barbaric woman because of the warlike atmosphere she is in.
After her transformation fully takes place, Mary Anne physically and psychologically turns into a ruthless and barbaric woman due to the effects that the warlike environment has had on her. When she returns from her three-week disappearance, her eyes are “not blue… but a bright glowing jungle green (p. 101)” showing the transformation of her eye color. At the beginning, her eyes are described as blue, the eye color that is generally of attractive people, but now her eyes are green, those of a person who has been in the jungle. She has completed her transformation into this violent and ruthless woman and her eye color shows this. The smell in the room that she was sitting in is described “like an animal’s den, a mix of blood and scorched hair… and the odor of moldering flesh” showing the filth that she is living in. Comparing her and her environment to that of an animal’s gives the effect that she is no longer the beautiful and clean girl that she once was; she has become a filthier and more barbaric woman. Her “necklace of human tongues” is the final factor in revealing that her transformation is complete. Most people would find it appalling, but Mary Anne wore it proudly conveying that she had become much more violent than she was before. When she returns, Mary Anne describes how she “feels close to [her] own body” when she is out in the field, suggesting that she enjoys being in the midst of warfare. Her barbaric nature is completely transparent at this point; most people would be scared to be in a place of war where they could lose their lives, but Mary Anne gets pleasure out of it. O’Brien implies that war makes a person fearless because it is a place where one has nothing to lose. She has completed her transformation from an innocent and civilized girl to a ruthless and barbaric woman.
Mary Anne Bell, the sweet, innocent city-girl is transformed into a violent and barbaric woman throughout the chapter, “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” due to the effects that war has on her. Towards the beginning she is portrayed as a very beautiful, attractive, blonde girl implying that she is not use to the rigorous work that the soldiers and paramedics do. However, she is very open to learning these things and she gets a joy from helping in the war effort. She is almost forced to change because she will get hurt emotionally and physically if she is not tough. If she continues to live in Vietnam as an innocent and naïve girl, she will be a burden on the group she is with. However, Mary Anne becomes tough; she becomes so tough that it is conveyed as violence and barbarism.