Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Cormac  McCarthy

Thao Nhu  Tong 

The Tet Offensive: A Major Turning Point in the Vietnam War

Cormac McCarthy: The Individual’s Failed Conformity to Their New Societies

The journeys of the protagonists in Cormac McCarthy’s novels are unsuccessful, although they are left enlightened about their authentic identities as well as better able to adapt to the new world that surrounds them. In All the Pretty Horses, John Grady Cole initially is dissatisfied with his life on the ranch in his hometown in Texas, which inspires him to set out on journey to Mexico. Contrary to his fantasies about how glorious a journey south will be, John and his companions, Blevins and Rawlins, encounter the brutal reality of the world. John’s naivete and his limited Spanish prevent him from understanding traditional beliefs in Mexican culture. Particularly, Alfonsa, the aunt of Alejandra, John’s lover, relates the importance of the social and gender norms to her family, which prevents John from pursuing a life with Alejandra because of class and cultural differences. At the end of the novel, John returns home to Texas, enlightened about his authentic identity, leading him into the darker world of adulthood.

Similar to John Grady Cole’s inability to manage his life in Mexico, the United States was unable to control their military campaign in Vietnam, especially when faced with the Tet Offensive. The overconfidence of the U.S. government with respect to their presence in Vietnam resulted in their lack of preparation when the North Vietnamese started the offensive. The pictures of ruthless executions which were exposed to the American public, as well as the rising death toll of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, completely contrasted the optimistic forecast that the American government espoused regarding their foreign involvement. Thus, it triggered resentment in the American public since they contorted reality of their war efforts. The deceit of the Johnson administration significantly declined public trust, hence increasing anti-war protests. The Tet Offensive was one of the most significant strategies launched by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and resulted in further ambiguity, distrust, and resentment of the American public as their government lied and deceived them.

Major Works Consulted:

Dudley, William. The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1998. McCarthy, Cormac. All the Pretty Horses. New York: Knopf, 1992. ---. Blood Meridian. New York: Random, 1985. Oberdorfer, Don. “TET: Who Won?” Smithsonian Magazine. Last Modified November 2004. Accessed February 5, 2018. 99179501/.
Photo Credit: Hrezo, Margaret and Nick Pappas. “The Things of God and Man: The Paradox of Consciousness in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy.” Voegelin View.