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“Missing”

Butler’s ending story is different from the others in his collection. It is set in Vietnam and the narrator is an American. Before it, “Salem” also returns to Vietnam, though in a different time period and with a Vietnamese narrator. Originally, “Salem” and “Missing” were not a part of the collection. So, what do they add to the collection? By returning to the jungles of Vietnam, Butler is giving us an alternative perspective. We are learning about those who chose to stay in Vietnam and what they gained or lost by doing so. In his other stories, the narrators are exploring their feelings about becoming Americanized. Butler gives us a broad range of narrators from those who desperately want the American Dream, like in “Fairy Tale,” to those who have many regrets back in Vietnam, like “In The Clearing.”

“Salem” was the first deviation from the Vietnamese-American narrator. Butler gives us a Vietnamese narrator who was a soldier in the Vietnam War. He was so strong in his faith for his country until Vietnam and America attempted to make peace by returning fallen American soldiers to their home country. In most of the other stories, we experience some level of respect for Vietnam, but in “Salem” the narrator is encountering bitterness with his country for the first time. We are left wondering whether he will reveal the location of an American body that only he knows about or if he will stay true to his position.

“Missing” then adds another element: an American soldier who chose a Vietnamese life. When the narrator’s picture appears in a paper, he struggles to combine his new and old identity. He will never truly be Vietnamese, but he never felt happy at his American home. He left battle looking for a place to sleep and instead found happiness in a Vietnamese way of life. The story continues the blend of American and Vietnamese cultures although the narrator makes a clear choice for a Vietnamese way of life, even embracing their god of the hearth.

Including “Salem” and “Missing” made a final statement for the collection. They are the ultimate moments of seeking truth. The narrators choose their identities: Vietnamese.

 

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