Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Loss of Innocence
The title of the novel Fallen Angels immediately emphasizes the theme of youth and innocence. As Lieutenant Carroll explains in Chapter 4, all soldiers are “angel warriors,” because the soldiers are still young boys and still as innocent as angels. In calling the novel Fallen Angels, Myers implies that the soldiers’ youth and innocence are more important than any of their other aspects, such as their religion, ethnicity, class, or race. The novel is first and foremost a tale of the lost innocence of a squad of soldiers in the Vietnam War. Richie is only seventeen when he enters Vietnam, and Peewee and the other members of the squad are also teenagers—Peewee is unable even to grow a mustache. His three life goals, immaturely, are to drink wine from a corked bottle, to smoke a cigar, and to make love to a foreign woman. Richie and Lobel are both virgins, and they fantasize endlessly about their first sexual experiences.
Though the soldiers enter the war as naïve youths, the war quickly changes them and forces them to develop into young men. Surrounded by death, they are forced to contemplate the fragility of their own lives and stripped of the carelessness and brazenness of youth. The unspeakable horrors around the boys force them to contemplate a world that does not conform to their childish and simplistic notions. Where they want to see only a separation between right and wrong, they instead find moral ambiguity. Where they want to see order and meaning, they find only chaos and senselessness. Where they want to find heroism, they find only the selfish instinct of self-preservation. These realizations destroy the boys’ innocence, prematurely thrusting them into manhood.
The Unromantic Reality of War
Like all the other soldiers in Fallen Angels, Richie joins the army with illusions about what war is like. Like many American civilians, he has learned about war from movies and stories that portray battle as heroic and glorious, the army as efficient and organized, and warfare as a rational effort that depends on skill. What the soldiers actually find in Vietnam bears almost no resemblance to such a mythologized and romanticized version of war. The army is highly inefficient and fallible. Most of the officers are far from heroic, looking out only for their own lives and careers rather than the lives of their soldiers. In the heat of battle, the soldiers think only about self-preservation and ways they can personally survive the onslaught of chaos and violence. Paralyzed by fear, they act blindly and thoughtlessly, often inadvertently killing their allies in the process. The battles and military strategies of the war are disorganized and chaotic, and officers often accidentally reveal their position to the enemy.
Richie, at the beginning of his tour of duty, clings to the myth that the good, smart, and cautious soldiers always survive while enemies, unskilled soldiers, and morally bad people die. The truth is very different, and Richie soon realizes that death is unfair and random, often a matter of pure chance. Richie also has his own personal myths and illusions in addition to the broader societal myths of war. He has, for instance, certain idealized reasons for joining the army: to escape an uncertain and bleak future, to find himself, and to defend freedom and democratic ideals from the threat of Communism. Richie quickly realizes, however, that these preconceived notions about the morality of war are meaningless on the battlefield. When actually in Vietnam, he fights merely to stay alive.
Troubled by this stark gulf between myth and reality, Richie longs to communicate the truth to his family members back home. He wants them to know what war is really like and wants to help them understand what he has experienced. The contrast between the myth and reality of the war makes it almost impossible for him to write to them frankly. He is afraid that they will fail to empathize or understand, since they will cling to the comforting myths they have always embraced. Even worse, Richie fears his family might think poorly of him for failing to live up the unrealistic ideal of the war hero. Though he finally does manage to compose an honest account of battle, he does so only after months of agony.
The Moral Ambiguity of War
Poised to sacrifice their lives for their country, Richie and his fellow soldiers desperately need to believe in a clear-cut distinction between good and bad. They are anxious to confirm that they are in fact on the good side of the conflict, and are not prepared to question whether their cause is the right one. Faced with the horrors he sees around him, Richie cannot help but ask these difficult questions, examining the morality of war and the frequently ambiguous nature of right and wrong. Richie first becomes aware of this moral ambiguity when his squad is sent on a pacification mission to a Vietnamese village. The stated goal of this mission is to convince the villagers that the Americans, and not the Communists, are the good side. This idea disturbs Richie, who reflects, “That was where we were supposed to start from. We, the Americans, were the good guys.” Richie feels that the Americans should not have to convince the Vietnamese that they represent the good side. Nonetheless, he recognizes why such a mission is necessary. The American army is responsible—though often inadvertently—for killing many villagers and destroying many villages with their advanced weapons. Regardless of whether the Americans’ goal in the war is morally superior to that of their enemies, their localized actions have terrible, immoral consequences.
More main ideas from Fallen Angels
Fallen Angels, By Walter Dean Myers
The Vietnam War in the late 1960’s was described as a tragedy, a victory, a win, and a loss, but for whom? The millions of people who loss their lives or the millions of people who fought to save others or is it for the millions of people who had to make that decision every time that they were in battle, but as for Richard Perry, a seventeen-year-old, African American just out of a Harlem High School, had to ask that question solely to himself. Perry, a talented and bright young man put away his dreams of college and becoming a writer because of the unfortunate circumstance he is in. He lives in poverty in the slums of Harlem. His single mother is abandoned by her husband and this leaves Perry and his younger brother Kenny without a father and a second income. Therefore, Perry’s mother does not have enough money to send him to college and the money they did have went to her alcohol problem. Although Perry has the grades and potential to go to a community college he is unsure about his plans in life and feels that money is the source of all his problems (Myers 15). Perry believes he should join the army to escape his future, to get money and to make it up to his younger brother and mother, and he does just that, He gets enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1967, due to a failure to process his medical file correctly leading him to not receive a medical discharge, Perry gets an unexpected ticket to the Vietnam War. In Fallen Angels, the major subjects include the history in The Vietnam War and war itself, Perry’s self discovery in war and the moral vagueness of war is represented. The themes of Friendship, Innocence and Racism are all reflected in the book. Friendship reflects the bond that Richie makes with Peewee Lobel, Lieutenant Carroll, Monaco and the rest of the members in his squad. The loss of innocence is portrayed within the story because Richie and the other squad members are relatively young and still teenagers who have not yet experienced life as adults have all experienced the deaths of soldiers who have fallen or lost their lives in the battle between the Vietcong, which embarks the title, Fallen Angles. “Race” is exposed in the book because it takes place in the 1967, a time in which discrimination was at its worst in the U.S. Richie in fact, comments “why are blacks given the most dangerous duties in the war?” (Myers 228). Despite the fact that death and violence are not the only hardships portrayed in the war, Perry struggles to find himself. Perry commonly known as Richie throughout the story begins a self-discovery during the Vietnam War. He is unaware of thejeopardy’s the war has to offer, he only thought the war as a place to find yourself but later learns more about what war really is and how it helped to become who he really wanted to be.
To begin with, the setting of the book mainly takes place during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War lasted from 1959 to 1973. The Vietnam War was an extensive, costly armed conflict...
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