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“Fortunate Son” by Lewis B. Puller


Lewis B. Puller (1945-1994) – a veteran of the Vietnam War who skillfully described the drama of his generation in the book “Fortunate Son.” Raised on the example of his legendary father, Lewis Puller Sr., known as Chesty, Puller Jr. was desperately afraid not to live up to the expectations imposed by his family and environment. Puller served in the Marine Corps and was seriously injured, losing both legs and almost all of his fingers. The horrors of war and physical wounds left an indelible mark on the author’s psyche and poured into the pages of an autobiographical book. The book became a bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize (1992). Its subtitle stated “The Healing Story of a Vietnam Vet,” but it turned out to be too optimistic. The battle in Puller’s soul was not over, Vietnam never let him go. Alcohol became Puller’s enemy, and now pain relievers were added to this. In 1994, he separated from his wife and shortly afterward shot himself in the head.

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Lewis Puller Jr. is, to some extent, a collective image of the military who went through the Vietnam War at that time and returned as a different person. At the book’s release, American society was just beginning to recover from stress and reflect on this topic more consciously and adequately. Unsurprisingly, Puller’s book touched the hearts of thousands of families, honestly recalling the reverse side of heroism and deeds.

Author’s Thesis

To understand the author’s thesis, it was essential to draw a picture of the context in which the book “Fortunate Son” was born. The chaotic structure of the story and dynamically changing language describing cycles of depressive and rehabilitative episodes all reflect the way Puller tries to deal with his trauma and his transformed understanding of self and the world. In many ways, Puller’s goal lies not so much in conveying some moral or making a statement. In fact, he only wants to find healing in freeing himself from the burden of thoughts that he pours onto paper.

In contrast to the book’s convulsively changing scenes (a feature of post-war memory), the author’s central thesis is succinct and understandable: war is hell. This idea pierces the reader through every time the narrative deviates once again and rushes in flashbacks into a traumatic event. The motive itself is not new, and of course, even in the context of the Vietnam War, many soldiers tried to convey the same idea through books and stories. However, the overwhelming consuming effect of Puller’s story makes this thesis far more compelling.

Support for the Thesis

One of the reasons why the novel was so resonant can be attributed to the almost absence of praise for heroic valor and glory that these kinds of stories often contain. Being the son of the courageous and most popular American Marine, the main character is convinced that his attempts to live up to his father’s expectations have collapsed,

“I could not reconcile my father’s generation’s triumphal return from World War II with my own experience. I understood that … society tended to want to avoid sharing the horrors suffered by its warriors.” (Puller 234).

More than that, his physical limitations make the character doubt his masculinity throughout the text. Puller even questions the sacrifice required to try to protect the honor of his name and country that eventually did not compensate any psychological and physical losses of its brave soldiers,

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“Also began to feel that my own sacrifice and that of all of us who had fought the war were meaningless. Unable then to discover any higher purpose for the wasted lives … I began to despise the government … which had asked of many of us everything we had and given back almost nothing.” (Puller 520).

An important Puller’s tool in support of his thesis is, as mentioned before, chaotic storytelling. The structure of the novel seems to repeat the patterns of the veteran’s memory. The story moves calmly, linearly, and even inspired in places – these are episodes of emotional uplift when the character accepts his past and learns to live with it. Occasionally, however, the narrative becomes abrupt, chaotic, and dynamic. Clearly, these episodes refer to painful memories triggered by thoughts about the futility of war, disappointment, anger, and the realization of their own helplessness.

Conclusion and Evaluation of the Book’s Contribution

Puller’s book mercilessly smashes the romanticization of war and heroism against the harsh reality, narrating the nightmare and mental and physical trauma that is not easy to overcome in civilian life. The author’s personal experience, which the reader lives with him on the book’s pages, opens up a world of depressed veterans disenchanted with military sacrifices and desperately trying to find liberation and healing from horrible events haunting their memories.

Such a tone reinterpreted the Vietnam War in a new way that ensured recognition in society and a literary prize for the novel. The thesis that war is hell this time was conveyed very accurately and realistically. Puller’s suicide once again proved that not everyone finds recovery from what they have experienced, emphasizing the illusory nature of the resolutions of the author, who was still naively striving for rebirth. Overall, the author made a significant contribution to the reconsideration of warfare and peacebuilding promotion.

Work Cited

Puller, Lewis, Jr. Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet. Reprint, Grove Press, 2000.

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