Going After Cacciato Summary and Study Guide

Tim O'Brien

Going After Cacciato

  • 52-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 46 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an experienced high school English teacher
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Going After Cacciato Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 52-page guide for “Going After Cacciato” by Tim O’Brien includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 46 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Fear and Courage and The Power of Imagination.

Plot Summary

Going After Cacciato, by Tim O’Brien, is a novel about a young soldier’s experiences in the Vietnam War. However, as the New York Times noted in its initial review of the novel upon its publication in 1978, “call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby Dick a novel about whales.” The novel does not simply recount the events of the war; it dives into the inner life of its protagonist, Paul Berlin, and grapples with philosophical questions such as what it means to be brave.

In the first chapter, the soldiers discover that one of their men, Cacciato, has left and is planning to walk to Paris. The leader of Cacciato’s squad, Lieutenant Corson, decides that he and his men will go after him. They march into the mountains, and when they can’t convinceCacciatoto return, they surround him. Paul is scared and wishes Cacciato would escape; the chapter ends on an open-ended note with Paul shouting, “’Go!’” (25).

From there, the novel breaks into three distinct narrative threads. The first one—begun in the first chapter and picking up again in Chapter 4—consists of realistic war stories. These include topics like Paul’s experiences when he first arrives in Vietnam for training, his observations about the land, and detailed descriptions of the different soldiers. The majority of these chapters, though, tell the stories of the casualties suffered by the unit thus far, which are listed on the first page of the book. These chapters are not chronological; for instance, the reader does not learn about Billy Boy Watkins, who dies of a fright-induced heart attack, until Chapter 31.

Chapter 2 starts the second narrative thread in which Paul is on watch in a tower by the sea while everyone else is asleep. These short chapters are all titled “The Observation Post,” and they move chronologically through the night from midnight to dawn. In them, Paul reflects on his thoughts, fears, and memories, contemplating the events that occur in both of the other threads. Though these chapters seem realistic, the reader learns in the final chapter that the tower is just a rumor, a story soldiers tell each other about an easy, peaceful duty, making these chapters a narrative device to tie the two other threads together and to give the reader more insight into Paul.

The final narrative thread begins in Chapter 3 and is revealed to the reader from the start to be happening entirely within Paul’s imagination. In this thread, the soldiers in the Third Squad keep chasing Cacciato—into Laos, to Mandalay, Tehran, Kabul, Athens, Luxembourg, and all the way to Paris. They encounter numerous obstacles along the way, such as being arrested in Tehran for not having proper documentation, but they also have a wonderful time exploring these other cities. Paul even finds a love interest, who joins them on the journey, a refugee named Sarkin Aung Wan. These chapters are tinged with surrealism; early on, for example, a giant hole opens up in the road, and they fall down into a tunnel where a Viet Cong soldier is living, observing the world through a giant periscope.

In the last chapter, the remaining men of the Third Squad (a few abandon the journey at various points) have found Cacciato’s Parisian hotel. Doc and Eddie guard the exits, and Paul and Oscar go in to capture Cacciato. Oscar makes Paul enter the room first with the rifle, and Paul is overcome with fear, falling to his knees and soiling himself. When he comes to, he is back on the mountain where the first chapter leaves off. Paul has fired his rifle without aim and soiled himself there as well, and Cacciato has escaped. The novel ends with the lieutenant and Paul discussing the possibility that Cacciato might make it.

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Chapters 1-3