War and Love in Ninh's The Sorrow of War

Authors Avatar

Natasha Frost        Mrs Noyes World Literature

Novelists often structure a novel around a series of carefully selected incidents. Explain the importance of two such incidents to the theme or themes of the novel.

In Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War, Ninh helps the reader to understand war as being all-conquering and consuming by comparing it to love, using a series of examples and incidents within the novel. In addition to this, after making the comparison to love, Ninh demonstrates war’s capacity to taint love and in this way indicates its lasting and sorrowful effect. By comparing and referring to the two consistently within the text, Ninh is able to show their importance and the ways in which they affect one another as one of the major themes of the novel.

Ninh’s perception of love within the text flits between the naively sincere and the despairingly hopeful: love before and after the war are almost two different things. Love before the war is pure and fresh. One cannot imagine any scenario under which it might deteriorate and every incident or word is deeply felt and heavy with sentiment. ‘Ordinary love’, as Kien refers to it, is rapt with nonsense and petty elations. With a sense of nostalgia, Kien remembers how, before the war, ‘Those were the days when all of us were young, very pure and very sincere.’ However, after the war has ravaged the soul’s ability to be so naively hopeful and sincere, all interplay between the sexes becomes a desperate attempt to recreate this. In its absence, love is reduced to blind hopefulness which eventually deteriorates into lust. It is almost as if the soldiers have numbed themselves as a result of the war, and that to feel any intense emotion is far too sharp a pain. Two events which display the contrast between these sentiments are Kien’s first meeting with Phuong by the lake and the soldiers in his regiment visiting their farm girls.

Join now!

We are first shown a representation of love when Kien discovers that some of the soldiers in his platoon have been visiting nearby farm girls. This first portrayal of love is at once excited and desperate: all aware that they are likely to die in the near future. The love that they experience is a frantic refuge from the realities of war. Thus, with the dark cloud of despair hanging over the men, their encounters with the girls are rushed and hopeless as they realise how little time they have together. ‘These small acts of love were an omen of ...

This is a preview of the whole essay