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Salem

“He trimmed the photo to fit in the cellophane around a pack of cigarettes and I understand things with a rush: he placed her there so that every time his unit stopped and sat sweating and afraid by a jungle stream and he took out his cigarettes to smoke, she would be there to smile at him.”

Butler’s “Salem” comes from a completely different perspective than the rest of his stories. While most of the book is from the view of a Vietnamese individual or collection of individuals living in America, particularly Louisiana- who struggle to get by and make an “American” life for themselves- in “Salem,” however, it is from the perspective of a Vietnamese soldier who has doubted his country.  While throughout the entire piece, he is claiming how the wounded bodies and senseless killing did not affect him, because they don’t affect a man, there are little instances where he shows that he doubts himself and how he feels about the acts that he has committed.  For example, when he is discussing how he felt about recent times, he claims “Perhaps I am not a man anymore,” which is a very powerful line. Most commonly, in war situations after the boys have come home, they struggle with identity because no one is instructing them to commit horrific acts, and they are forced to remember and wonder if it all was worth it.  This is a similar situation, and the narrator struggles to find himself and what he believes in, while scapegoating his fears and thoughts on his country and the war.  The most powerful scene is when he opens the cigarette box of the American he has killed, and finds a perfectly cut out picture of a woman, and realizes that he and the American soldier are not so different after all- which surely hits close to home.  Throughout this piece, we are treated with beautiful imagery that commit us to read on, and to understand how war and strife can cause humans to drastically misunderstand each other, when all we have to do is take a step back, to make peace.

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