Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Helen Oyeyemi

Thao Nhi Tong 

The Use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War

Helen Oyeyemi’s Magical Realism and the Search for True Self

Using the genre of Magical Realism, which employs imaginary, fantastical details within the setting of a real world, author Helen Oyeyemi conveys the confusion of her protagonists in fully understanding their true selves. In the journey of finding one’s true identity, Oyeyemi illustrates that everyone, regardless of race, age, and gender, questions their authenticity. Each imaginary, fantastical component of Oyeyemi’s works represents the unclear and mysterious events that each of the protagonist has to overcome in order to embrace his or her uniqueness. For instance, The Icarus Girl, with the settings both in London and Nigeria, focuses on the life of Jessamy Harrison - an eight-year-old, half-black, half-white girl who is introverted, quick-tempered, and prefers sitting in a cupboard to talking to other people. The novel focuses on Jessamy’s struggles in balancing both of her cultural backgrounds, emphasizing the importance of TillyTilly, whom Jessamy creates as an outlet through which to express her emotions. Jess’ ability to dissolve the image of Tilly at the end of the novel illustrates her discovery of her authentic self and emphasizes her growth in maturity.

Similar to threats that protagonists in Helen Oyeyemi’s novels face in finding their true selves, the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War also had to face risk of exposure to Agent Orange. Often referred to by the Vietnamese people as “weed killer,” Agent Orange was a herbicide that also served as a defoliant, containing the toxic chemical “dioxin.” Just a small amount of dioxin had the power to destroy crops, forests, mangrove damps, and people’s health. Therefore, the use of Agent Orange knowingly created many serious, long-term consequences for the Vietnamese people and the environment. Thus, the United States’ decision to use Agent Orange excessively can be considered a crime against humanity. Ultimately, the use of Agent Orange was a military strategy that aimed to create an advantage for the United States army and bring Vietnam to devastation. As a result, the United States should be held accountable for the damaging effects Agent Orange had on the people and environment of Vietnam.

Major Works Consulted:

King, Pamela. “The Use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War and Its Effects on the Vietnamese People.” Georgetown University. Accessed February 8, 2017.
Le, Ba. “The Effects that Dioxin Caused to the Civilians and the Ecological Environment at Some ‘Hotspots’: Sa Thay-Kon Tum, A Luoi, Quang Tri.” Ho Chi Minh University of Industry. Accessed February 5, 2017. dioxin-gay-ra-cho-dan-cu-va-he-sinh-thai-moi-truong-cac-diem-nong-vung-sa-thay-kontu m-a-luoi-9926/.
Oyeyemi, Helen. The Icarus Girl. New York: Anchor, 2006.
---. Mr. Fox. New York: Riverhead, 2011.

Photo Credit: Berg, Laura Van Den. “'What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours,' by Helen Oyeyemi.” The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2016, is-not-yours-by-helen-oyeyemi.html?_r=0. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.