Youth in War

During WW2 many countries sent hundreds of thousands to millions of young men into battle to fight for the causes and interests of the country. By the causes and interests of a country I mean the causes and interest of the elite members of the country who are the decision makers. Those who have the power to declare war. I think that in this passage Pynchon is firing an attack upon these elite members. He does this by illustrating what the lives of the millions of young soldiers were like.
“Brush your teeth and go toddling off to war” reminds me of a parent telling their child, “brush your teeth and go to bed. These young soldiers, fighting and dying in the war, have just barely graduated from this stage of their lives. They are so young that the days of their parents telling them to brush their teeth and go to bed almost overlap with them being told to “toddle” off to war. They are toddling because they are too young to even walk or run to war.
In fact, the soldiers are so young that they have never had the opportunity to experience independence. Their parents no longer tell them what to do, when to go to bed, because now the military does. Because of their age, there was never a time in the lives of these men in which they had the opportunity to make their own individual decisions. This makes their death in war even more tragic and cruel, as so many lives were cut short before they even knew what kind of people they were.
When Pynchon writes, “wave your hand to sleepy land” I believe that he is also firing an attack towards not only the elite members of society, but society as well. The fact that the soldiers are specifically “waving” goodbye rather than simply “saying” goodbye sends the message that society does not want to have to accept and come to terms with the most difficult part of war, the loss of human life. The young soldiers that they are sending away have a large chance of being killed. And yet, rather than taking responsibility for the fate they are sending the soldiers to meet, they want to be waved to. They don’t want to think about what will happen to the men. They also don’t want to think that anything bad may befall the soldier that is waving to them. It is easier to believe that nothing will happen to the individual they are waving to. It is someone else’s soldier, loved one, who will be killed. It could never happen to them or someone that they care for. They want their soldier to wave, to let “sleepy land” continue to keep on sleeping.
Another reference to the youth of the soldiers is from a sexual standpoint. The men have not reached adulthood, or have just barely reached adulthood, and thus have had none to very few sexual experiences. The must “tell Miss Grable that you’re not able.” This is a reference to Betty Grable, who was a major actress, singer, and model in the 1940s, known particularly for her long legs. Miss Betty Grable was a prominent sex symbol in the culture of the time period. Not only will the men to have to refrain from sexual experiences with the girl next door, but if one of the most prominent and sought after women of the time wanted to sleep with them they would be unable. They would have no choice but to say no, “not till V-E day.”
“Not till V-E day” will the soldiers be able to have sexual experiences and make their own decisions, but they will be unable to live their own lives until the conclusion of the war. Until that time the men will have to “kiss those dreams away.” In total, over 60 million people died in WW2. This fact is an example of the novel being metafictional. Pynchon, the work itself, and the people reading it from 1973 onward, all know that the death toll in WW2 was monstrous. Therefore, it is a harsh reality that many of the men will never see the conclusion of the war that they gave their lives for because many will die. They will never have the opportunity to live and will never experience independence of any form.

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4 Responses to Youth in War

  1. iamsayshoe says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I agree with your interpretation of the poem, and especially enjoyed the allusions you researched. I’m still in awe at how Pynchon incorporates allusions and metaphors in every single paragraph. I think that the line “kiss those dreams away” is a very well written line, pointing to the fact that many soldiers died during the war, but also to the fact that soldiers were told that they would be home in a few months, but instead many soldiers in WW2 either never returned, or returned many, many years later. Another interpretation of the line that I thought about was that the soldiers that left and returned, returned as different people psychologically. These changed soldiers would have to “kiss those dreams away” due to their change in personality and priorities.

  2. dab148 says:

    Hey there Brianna,
    After reading your mention of a parent speaking the lines to a child, I re-read the song and it does have a lullaby quality to it. The playful rhymes and childlike simplicity of the song do remind me of something you’d sing to a child to put them to sleep. I think your point about Pynchon depicting the soldiers as children in order to critique the war is spot on. The song has a sarcastic and bitter overtone, and referencing the soldiers as childlike makes the critique all the more scathing. Enjoyed your post!
    Best,
    David

  3. cjc127 says:

    Brianna,
    I’m usually very confused about the poems within the text so I was excited to see your interpretation of one. I agree with David’s comment that the poem has a lullaby quality to it and part of your anlysis matches up with that idea like your comment about “toddling.” One part I am still confused about is why the hands are waving to “sleepy land.” This phrase sounds like words from a lullaby but I think there must be more behind the phrase. What does everyone else think?

  4. srk552014 says:

    I would agree that this poem has more of a lullaby feel to it, and also that the society tends to not like to talk about the actual human repercussions of war. In regards to the waving bit, it would support your hypothesis that society tends to look away from the horrors of war. It truly is amazing how much Pynchon can condemn society in one little lullaby poem.

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