The Characters, Themes and Literary Elements in Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
The characters, themes and literary devices used in Fallen Angels, a novel by Walter Dean Myers, make it the compelling, critically-acclaimed novel that it is.
The three major characters in Fallen Angels, Richie Perry, Harold “Peewee” Gates, and Lobel, all have distinct personalities and backgrounds. Perry, originating from the streets of Harlem is a perplexed, innocent child when he first enters the Vietnamese War. Perry has extreme potential, and even dreams of being a philosopher. “My plans, maybe just my dreams really, had been to go to college, and to write. . . . All the other guys in the neighborhood thought I was going to college. I wasn’t, and the army was the place I was going to get away from all the questions.” Though he chooses to ignore it and join the war, – as it is an easy escape from himself and his nagging future – his deep-seated curiosity compels him to answer more questions about himself and his morals. Perry is a very interesting character to portray in a war novel, as he offers immediate insight regarding the war, where individuals physical, emotional, and mental capabilities are tested. When he encounters these disturbing images, he tries to shut them out, which proves more and more ineffective the more he is exposed to them. Peewee and Perry share similar backgrounds. Perry comes from Harlem, and Peewee comes from Chicago. Peewee enters the war as a boy and matures and develops after testing himself and his morals. Peewee does not share the same ambition as Perry, claiming he has only three goals in life (drink wine from corked bottle, make love to a foreign woman, and smoke a cigar). Though Peewee copes with the war with his comedy and farce, he will occasionally show true emotion. This happens when he sees a child explode in front of his eyes. “The GI’s arms and legs flung apart from the impact of the blast. The damn kid had been mined, and had exploded in his arms”. Though Peewee appears light-hearted and easygoing, he reveals a caring, deeper side throughout the book. Because Lobel is a Jewish soldier and suspected homosexual who is in Perry’s squad, he is on the receiving end of much of the abuse from the more anti-semitic and homophobic members of the squad, and even his disapproving father. He seeks solace from the abuse in developing friendships with Perry and Peewee, two of the kinder soldiers in the squad. Lobel lives the war in his own private, glorious fantasy. While Peewee jokes about the war, he sincerely believes that he is acting a heroic role in a war movie. This is very evident in this quote:”‘You remember those cowboy movies when the bad guys ride into town? You know, the killers?’/`Yeah.’/’That’s us,’ Lobel said.” While some of the complex characters in Fallen Angels share similar backgrounds, they are all distinctly different.
The major themes in this novel, all centered on war, include loss of innocence, the portrayal of war versus it’s reality, and the ethics of war. Loss of innocence is strongly developed in this novel, as the majority of the soldiers are still very young and maintain their innocence, a youthful quality. This trait is perfectly described when, in chapter 4, Lieutenant Carroll calls them “angel warriors”. “`My father used to call all soldiers angel warriors,’ he said. `Because usually they get boys to fight wars. Most of you aren’t old enough to vote yet.’” Another event that marks the loss of innocence, which occurs in chapter 17, is the explosion of a young child mentioned earlier. A child, a symbol often used in literature to represent innocence and naivety – dies, and with it’s death, comes the death of what it represents. The relentless death and loss that is ever-present forces them to shed their “youthful skin”, and develop a callus around whatever part of them feels sensitivity towards others. Another theme explored in this book is the contrast between the portrayal of war and its reality. This theme is first shown, though on a much smaller scale, when the soldiers are forced to pay for their own dinners at the airport. Another example that reinforces this theme is that every leader of Perry’s squad, with the exception of Lt. Carroll, acts out of own self interest, rather than for the reasons of which America entered the war. Strongly troubled by the blurred line between myth and reality, Perry seeks to connect with and educate the only constant he knows, his family. He ends up unable to do so. The last major theme explored in this book is the ethics of war. Myers masterfully illustrates the human tendency toward seeking black and white, right and wrong, good and evil through Perry and his squad mates’ emotional journeys. Once Perry is engulfed in the war, and eventually kills a man, he questions whether he is inherently good (or whether anyone is good), just because he is American. This is the result of the brainwashing done by the media and government. After giving up on trying to find the line between good and bad, Perry resolves that his goal in Vietnam is to get out alive. The themes that Myers explores in this novel are only possible to convey as well as he did in a wartime setting.
Three major literary devices are used in Fallen Angels, including a variety of symbols and motifs. Perry’s letters home (which are almost metaphors), those which he often struggles in writing, reflect his ever-changing opinion of the war. In the opening chapters, he writes to Kenny buoyantly, excited about returning home soon with all of his souvenirs and good stories. As Perry is exposed to the horrors of war, he struggles more reporting the negativity to Kenny and his mother. Another literary device is the motif of race in war. During this time in America, the African-American civil rights movement was picking up speed, and many soldiers carried their prejudices into the war, where they had no bearing. In the book, soldiers lightly traded racial slurs, which often led to physical violence. As the soldiers bond together, their biases disappear. This is evident in Johnson’s quote: “‘I didn’t say nothing,’ Johnson said. ‘I don’t talk that shit. A man in Nam fighting by my side is a man fighting by my side. I don’t care what he doing in bed.’” The last literary device used in Fallen Angels is prayer. As the group encounters more and more terrific things, including the deaths of Jenkins and Lieutenant Carroll, they rely on prayer more and more. Perry often wishes he knew the Lord’s Prayer, and refers to religion in talking about Kenny and his mother. He seeks religious guidance from Brew, a very religious character who acts as the “priest” of the group, and asks him to borrow his Bible. Perry’s letters, race, and prayer are all literary devices used in this book to further develop it’s themes and critical ideas.
Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers, contains the substance in characters, themes, and literary devices to make it a very well-written, bestselling book.
A Study of Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
War can turn even the strongest of men humble. The novel Fallen Angels is about a small group of men who come of age in the Vietnam War. Richie Perry, the novels protagonist, enlists in the army mainly to escape his problemsa bad relationship with his mother, a lack of opportunity in Harlem, and an uncertainty about his future. He finds himself in the middle of a war that is more confusing and traumatic than the life he fled. In this novel Walter Dean Myers uses many types of literary devices in order to help the reader become familiar with the plot. One of the many types of devices Myers utilizes is that of characterization. In this novel characterization is depicted through Perrys action and speech, thoughts, and even by his physical appearance. Walter Dean Myers uses many examples of characterization for the purpose of developing the character in relation to the other elements of the story. Myers uses indirect characterization in order to paint a mental picture of Richie Perry.
Action and speech can reveal a lot about a persons character. We see this in the novel when Perry is going on his first patrol, for the first ten minutes he had to wipe his right hand on his fatigues at least a dozen times. He kept imagining VC popping up and him not being ready to fire. By him wiping his hand on his fatigues shows how incredibly apprehensive and nervous he was. After one of Richies fellow platoon members got killed, the entire company was in mourning. Richie was going over to one of the men and saw him crying. When he saw this he decided not to talk to him and turned around and walked away. The reason for this was because Richie didnt want to insult his friend by seeing him cry. This is an example showing how respectful Richie is.
Another way Myers shows Richies character is through his thoughts. On the plain, on his way over to Vietnam, Richie thinks to himself I usually cant eat when Im nervous, and going to Nam made me nervous. The only reason I was going anyway was because of a paperwork mess up. This distinctly shows how tense and nervous he was. Another example of characterization shown through Richies thoughts is right after he had written a letter to Lieutenant Carrolls wife telling her of what had happened to her husband. Richie begins thinking to himself about what his mother would do if she ever received a letter like that about Richie. This shows Richies concern and love for his mother, even if they dont have a good relationship. It shows that he is very caring and sentimental.
The third way in which Richies character is depicted is through his physical appearance. As Richie was in combat he began thinking to himself that he felt huge walking among them. He towered over them. He was huge and he was armed to the teeth, and these were not his people. By his physical appearance being much larger than that of the VC he felt as if he was greatly superior to them. Another example of how Richie felt superior to the VC is when he arrived at Headquarters Company and Vietnamese people were working behind the counter. He thought they looked peaceful enough, and so small. He was six-three, and many of them seemed a good foot shorter than he was. In conclusion, in the novel Fallen Angels, Walter Dean Myers uses different examples of characterization in descriptive form to show how the protagonist, Richie Perry, is to be seen by the reader.
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean and Racial Conflicts Between Soldiers
In Walter Dean Myers book Fallen Angels, the main character Richie struggles with the reality of war, which contradicts the war he believed he was entering into. The book shows racial conflicts between soldiers. The loss of innocence within the young soldiers. How soldiers cope with the horrors of war. All of these factors change Richies view on the Vietnam War which he has entered.
Richie a young black soldier from Harlem has had to deal with racism his entire life. Though this made his life tough it never put him in life in the line of gunfire on a day to day bases. ‚Richie learns that the old squad leader, Sargent Sampson has been sent home. His replacement is the racist Sergeant Donagan, who always places black soldiers in the most dangerous positions. Early in their tour of duty, there are racial and ethnic tensions among the squad members, which frequently result in physical confrontations..‚(Spark Notes). Racial issues made an already miserable war, even harder for Richie, being the most venerable to attack based on the color of one skin even though they belonged to the same unit, fighting for the same side shows the different issues with the Vietnam War.
Soldiers in Vietnam were not all grown men, insted teenagers who had not experienced the world. ‚The title of the novel Fallen Angels immediately emphasizes the theme of youth and innocence‚(Spark Notes). When Richie enters Vietnam he was young in many ways, innocent in even more. Richie was nineteen, fresh out of high school, had never left Harlem, smoked a cigar, drank wine, or the most important to Riche made love to a women. These young men were expected to go out and fight an enemy that many of them did not know, or know the exact reason for the fighting. In chapter four Lieutenant Carroll states ‚All soldiers are Angel Warriors‚. Dan Myers holds this theme of innocence above all the others, race, class, or religion. The war soon changes the naive boys, into harden young men.
‚The unspeakable horrors around the boys force them to contemplate a world that does not conform to their childish and simplistic notions. Where they want to see only a separation between right and wrong, they instead find moral ambiguity. Where they want to see order and meaning, they find only chaos and senselessness. Where they want to find heroism, they find only the selfish instinct of self-preservation. These realizations destroy the boys‚ innocence, prematurely thrusting them into manhood‚ (Spark Notes).Growing up is something every young man needs to go through, though the violent and tramatic ways it occurers in war is not a positive way.
The reality of the war affects the soldiers in many ways, more negative then positive. Like all the other soldiers in Fallen Angels, Richie joins the army with illusions about what war is like. Like many American citizens, he has learned about war from movies and stories that portray battle as heroic and glorious, the army as efficient and organized, and warfare as a efficent effort that depends on skill. What the soldiers actually find in Vietnam isalmost no resemblance to such a romanticized version of war. The army is highly inefficient. Most of the officers are far from heroic, looking out only for their own lives and careers rather than the lives of their soldiers. In the heat of battle, the soldiers think only about self-preservation and ways they can personally survive the chaos and violence. Paralyzed by fear, they act blindly and thoughtlessly, often accidently killing their allies in the process. The battles and military strategies of the war are disorganized, and officers often accidentally reveal their position to the enemy.
The longer Richie is their his view on the war he thought he knew changes. Richie grows increasingly doubtful about whether American assistance helps the Vietnamese villages, as he sees that the Communist Vietcong retaliate against any villages that receive American aid. Any good that the Americans might do, it seems, leads only to greater evils. As much as they try, the American soldiers cannot protect the South Vietnamese people, and the soldiers‚ presence only puts the village in greater danger. Richie is no longer able to believe that he is fighting for any clear moral reasons, and he struggles to find meaning for his stay in Vietnam. He finally decides that his only purpose in Vietnam is to stay alive and to help his friends do the same.
All of these factors change Riche from a yung boy who was innocent and acted like such, into a grown man who grew up to fast and saw too many horrible things to