A Post-Structuralism Investigation of the Mysterious Fate of Stink Harris
In Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien, one abundantly clear theme is disjunction. Much of the text is fragmented, split up and moving between locations, characters, and time periods. Coupled with what often seems like magical realism, this paints a rather indistinct picture of many events. One in particular being the departure of Stink Harris. When the group arrives in Greece on the boat, Stink Harris’ fate after he leaps off the ship is made unclear by alternative textual interpretations of the situation.
Excited by their prospects upon arrival to Piraeus, the hope-filled group is crushed after noting the multitude of customs officers waiting for them. As turning around and giving up increasingly seems like the only option, Doc Peret makes the comment “‘So close.’ Doc sighed. ‘And yet so close.’”(O’Brien 257). This statement, botching the common saying ‘So close yet so far’, which appears to not able to properly represent the situation that it seems the group is in, is strange. Doc’s comment, instead of representing the fact there is no hope, may be the last ray of light glimmering inside the mind of the group members, making them feel as though they are still close enough to drift away into Greece. Since this statement proves true, and the group does manage to slip away and escape, the way this comment can be perceived as raising suspicion as to what became the real fate of Stink Harris by implying there is in fact still a possibility of the group completing the mission, and a prelude to the idea there just might be hope for Stink Harris to do so as well.
As the boat approaches shore, scrambling, the group racks their brains to find an answer for them to all walk free in Greece without being captured. After shutting down many impractical ideas, the general consensus is that it’s time to throw in the towel. All the while, Stinks’ brain has confidently formulated a plan. In response to a group member’s suggestion of surrender, Stink decides “Bullshit it is! Disguises…That’s it! Dress ourselves up like women!.”(258). Though at first glance it seems as though Stink is delusional, holding on to anything he can wrap is mind around, and the suggestion seems ridiculous. However, this is not just an idea, it’s a plan. Disguises are in fact a legitimate answer to the customs issue they are facing, and one the rest of the group had not thought of. This plot reveals Stink Harris may be far more intelligent and capable than people think. This alternative view of Stink as surprisingly quick witted makes what he does next open to analysis. This alternate plan for disguises may blind us from what Stink could have really been cooking up in own head. Stink could be showing himself as either a naive fanatic, jumping as a last resort in desperation, or a calculated planner timing every move he makes, depending on your point of view and how you read the scene.
After declaring he is bailing ship, Stink is appalled with the rest of the group’s’ decision to stay aboard. He wonders “What’s wrong with you guys?”(258). Stink seemed to be driven drunk with adrenaline, completely driven by pure survival instinct with consequences out of his mind. Although that seems the clear answer, Stink’s comment may be driven by an actual questioning. He may have completely thought out the plan, really wondering why the others are not willing to go free, like he will be. Interpretations of Stinks innermost thoughts cause us to wonder if Stink could have been irresponsible, throwing his life away in a foolish move, or rather, if he was employing a rather ingenious plan in the spur of the moment.
As the cargo ship sailed away, the group watches Stink’s figure in the water. After some time, “Then the wake was gone. So was Stink Harris”(259). Although drowning seems the obvious explanation, the text makes his final fate unclear. Stink, the man who formulated all of the answers in his head, has disappeared from sight. The text simply states he was gone, possibly meaning out of the group’s lives. He never reappears or returns to the group again. This could mean Stink, with all of his ideas of disguise, and plan to get to shore, may have made it to his final destination after all. Because this scene can be seen as either a horrifying, abrupt death and end to Stink Harris, or as a miraculous, well formulated escape, we may never know his true fate, and we are left to question if he made it to safety or simply perished. The scene is a quintessential synecdoche for the novel. Just like what happened to Stink Harris in the end, much of Going After Cacciato is especially open for various interpretations, depending on your own personal view of events.
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