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“In the Clearing”

Butler has certainly had me on an emotional roller coaster. Having this story immediately follow “Mid-Autumn” made it especially powerful and helped me to feel the scope of the tragedy that the Vietnam War brought on its people. Moments, like the one in the clearing where the narrator was feeling the fear, caught my breath in both the stillness and the impending doom that I felt.

“I was feeling the fear pretty bad, like it was a river catfish with the sharp gills and it was just now pulled out of the water and into the boat, thrashing, with the hook still in its mouth, and my chest was the bottom of the boat.”

Butler chooses an image that is both very exciting, yet very calming. Anyone who has ever caught a fish knows the adrenaline rush, the quick movements once the fish is in the boat, and the contradictory still moments as you watch the wide-eyed fish take its last gasping breaths. As someone who has never, and probably will never, experience war first-hand, it was this image that hit the emotions home for me.

I also admired the premise of the story. The narrator is writing a letter to his son, who he has never and probably will never meet. That in itself is extremely tragic–the circumstances in which he was forced to leave his wife and newborn son. However, I found that this story was primarily about truth. The truths of how the world was created, why wars started, and old myths have been long sought. Every person believes in something different. It is often believe that gets soldiers through war and people through the hardships of life. So it is strange, and yet not strange at all, that this father chooses to tell his son about a dragon and a fairy princess that married and had children, creating Vietnam. It is this story that saved the father’s life, so it is natural for him to want to save his son’s life with it.


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