Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in "In Country" by Bobbi Ann Mason
Many Vietnam veterans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. Typically, such individuals have flashbacks, dreams, and are constantly haunted by their war memories. The mental stress can lead to further complications, even physically injuring or paralyzing the human body. The book In Country by Bobbi Ann Mason portrays a prime example of such a victim. The difference? The subject is a seventeen-year-old girl in the early nineteen-eighties who never saw the war.
Posttraumatic stress disorder affects an estimated 30.9% of male Vietnam veterans and 26.9% of female Vietnam veterans, according to a survey by the National Center for PTSD (National Center for PTSD Online). Of these, most have marital and social problems, high arrest rates, alcoholic dependencies, and in many cases drug addictions. These issues are brought on by the terrors, stress, and moral headaches caused by the acts, such as killing, that they were ordered to commit during their service. While others are only mildly affected and manage to lead semi normal lives, others are rendered useless, unable to hold jobs, start families, or participate as active members of society as they are constantly obsessing, whether consciously or not, about the war. In Mason’s book, there are prime examples of each.
Emmett, the thirty something uncle of Sam, the main character, is the second type of victim. After moving back home to Hopewell after the war, he spent a few years causing mischief with his wild hippy friends. Eventually, they left, and with the ruckus, amusement, and gossip caused by their stunts, Emmett’s spirit also died, pushing him into an ever deepening low. He is unable to hold a job, therefore makes little or no money and lives with his niece in his sister’s house. Their relationship is backwards as Sam, seventeen, spends more time caring, looking after, and worrying for him than he, as an adult, has ever demonstrated for her. She thinks that he has contracted Agent Orange, which is a constant source for concern as she thinks “it could turn into cancer” (Mason 70). He has had several mental episodes, including the time he lost feeling in his legs because he was “identifying with the paraplegics” (Mason 234). Several of Emmett’s old war buddies have similar issues. Although one attempted to marry and lead a normal life, that too failed. Tom, a mechanic who sold Sam her Volkswagen, was left impotent because of what he calls “mind over matter” causing him “[to go] where he doesn’t want to go” (Mason 128).
These are the things that fill Sam’s head, things caused by “a war which ended when she was but a child” but are still “the center of her life” (Stewart 1). They have been “banned from public consciousness,” but not from hers (Morrissey 1). Her obsession can be traced to her father who was killed during the war. She felt that she should have lived in the sixties,...