How does Richie Perry change over the course of the novel?
Perry begins the novel as a teenager with only a vague idea of his own identity and his place in the world. He is admittedly running away from his home because he is not ready to face the uncertainty of his future. By the end of Fallen Angels, he has still not figured out his future, but he understands what truly matters in life. He realizes that his relationships and comportment are more important than material wealth or social constructs. Building friendships across race and class and then losing those friends in the arena of battle has taught Perry that love is worth fighting for. While Perry is stationed in Vietnam, he thinks about how much his younger brother, Kenny, needs him. He understands how much his mother loves him, despite her drinking problems. Standing on the precipice of death allows Perry to appreciate everything he has instead of focusing on what he lacks. The events of the novel take place over several months, but Perry is seventeen years young when he arrives in Vietnam and seventeen years old when he leaves.
How does Myers characterize the Vietnam experience in Fallen Angels? How do Perry and his fellow soldiers feel?
The Vietnam War was chaotic and difficult for the American military, especially in the wake of the Allied Forces' triumphant victory in World War II. The Viet Cong secured victories against the United States, a far superior military power, by using guerrilla tactics and attacking while remaining firmly out of sight. As a result, the American soldiers at all ranks were increasingly paranoid and never felt in control of the conflict. In the novel, Perry often describes feeling overwhelmed by the noise; the artillery fire, the shelling, and particularly the helicopters. He is plagued by a constant feeling of desperation and lack of passion for the mission. Furthermore, Perry and his fellow GIs are very isolated, stationed "in the boonies." They receive orders from their direct superiors without any understanding of the larger strategic goals. Furthermore, they have very few connections to ‘the World’ apart from the occasional movie, the heavily biased Stars and Stripes, and infrequent letters from home.
What do Perry's letters to his mother and Kenny symbolize?
Perry's tour of Vietnam is far removed from the civilian life that he will return to after his military service and his correspondence forms a vital link between these two realities. Perry often struggles with what he should write in his letters to his mother and his brother, worrying that they will not understand or that they will judge his actions harshly. However, these letters are ultimately representative of Perry's most important realization: that his relationships are what define his presence on Earth. Every time Perry watches a soldier die (either American or VC), he thinks about the man's family. When his squad has to burn a pile of American bodies, Perry worries about how the dead soldiers' families will find out about the death of their loved ones without any bodies or identifying tags as proof. Perry (and his fellow soldiers) rely on letters to keep their personal ties active and reinforce their relationships back home while they are constantly being forced to face their own mortality on the battlefield.
What makes a good leader in the world of Fallen Angels? Compare those with official power, such as Captain Stewart and Lieutenants Dongan, Carroll, and Gearhart, and those who are unofficial leaders among their peers, such as Simpson and Johnson.
In Fallen Angels, the best leaders are those who earn the respect of those under their command. Lieutenant Carroll shows his compassion for his troops and values each soldier for his individual strengths. Lieutenant Gearhart is honest with his troops, but they do not respect him because of his inexperience in combat. He does not make them feel safe, so they do not trust him as a leader. In contrast, Lieutenant Dongan is racist and does not treat his men well, but they maintain a modicum of respect for him after they see his skill and expertise in battle. Sergeants Simpson and Johnson are natural leaders by virtue of their focus on the mission and sage knowledge about the war. Both seem wise, and it is this calm demeanor in the face of terror that makes them leaders. Captain Stewart is the worst example of a leader because he takes advantage of his position and puts his men at risk for his own gain. Many of the less powerful characters try to stand up to Stewart but he is not willing to change. He does not value the lives of his men, and they, in turn, do not respect him.
Compare and contrast Peewee and Perry. What makes their relationship so solid?
Peewee and Perry have very different personalities and methods of self-conduct. Peewee is loud and gregarious and never shies away from stating his opinion, no matter how incendiary. He likes to be the center of attention. However, Perry discovers that Peewee's brash attitude is often a mask for his insecurities. Peewee is excited about fighting and likes being in the army because it offers him a chance to be equal to his fellow soldiers. As a poor African American man living in Chicago's South Side in the 1960s, Peewee is used to feeling inferior, but in the army, death is the major equalizer. Peewee lives in the moment, and Perry often finds his pronouncements of bravado and infallibility to be comforting. On the other hand, Richie Perry is quiet and reserved. He is very pensive and often contemplates the long-term implications of the Vietnam War and the meaning of his role in this destructive narrative. The violence unfolding around him impacts Perry deeply, and he is much more articulate in expressing his emotions. Perry and Peewee balance one another out - each providing the other with what he lacks.
Are there any heroes in Fallen Angels? What constitutes a hero according to the novel?
In Fallen Angels, Myers breaks down the myth of the American military hero and the glorification of war. Peewee and Perry agree that it is stupid to act like a hero when facing imminent death. Instead, they both immediately abandon any self-sacrificial ideal and try to preserve their own lives. When Lobel examines the clichéd war characters in Hollywood movies, he surmises that heroes always get killed. Yet as the novel progresses, Perry becomes close to the other members of the squad. Instead of devoting their heroic acts to the American cause, they risk their lives to save each other. When Peewee is injured, Perry insists on helping his friend walk. When VCs have cornered Monaco, both Perry and Peewee expose their position in order to to save him. In the end, the heroes are not those who will be remembered in history books as purveyors of democracy, but rather, those who would not leave their friends behind to die. While Myers presents an inspiring message about humanity and brotherhood, he reveals a more cynical perspective on the idea of a "war hero."
Describe the role of race in Fallen Angels.
For the majority of the novel, the army is an equalizer across race and class. In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, the army was a place where both African American and Caucasian soldiers wore the same uniforms, carried the same guns, and ate the same food. In fact, Peewee cites this equality as a reason for his decision to join the army in the first place. When Perry first arrives in Vietnam, he is surprised at the number of African American soldiers, but forges lasting bonds with most of his squad mates - regardless of skin color. Perry does not think about race that often unless he is describing life at home in Harlem. Lieutenant Dongan upsets the racial balance, however, when he brings the racism that is currently plaguing American society to Vietnam.
What is the difference between Perry's pre-conceived ideas about war and his real experiences in Vietnam?
Before his tour of duty, Perry (and many young soldiers like him) see war as a heroic pursuit of justice. During World War II, the Americans entered the war defensively and fought against tangible evil in order to make the world a safer place. The returning soldiers were celebrated as protectors of freedom and democracy. However, over the course of Fallen Angels, Richie Perry and his fellow soldiers discover that victories in Vietnam will not be quite so triumphant and their reason for fighting is becoming increasingly vague. Many soldiers who returned from Vietnam (like Perry and Peewee) harbored lasting guilt about the lives they had taken and the atrocities they had been forced to commit in the name of democracy.
Describe structural choices and storytelling techniques that Myers employs in Fallen Angels. How does his style enhance the narrative?
Myers wrote Fallen Angels entirely through the point of view of Richie Perry, the protagonist. The entire novel is in the present tense. Perry is the reader's filter for all of the information about the war (both personal and politically); we experience his thoughts and reactions as he matures over the course of the narrative. This anchors all readers firmly in the era of the Vietnam War and makes the conflict feel present and immediate. Additionally, Myers employs a more languid, reflective writing style during the soldiers' downtime in the barracks, during which they fill their time with more menial activities. Myers allows the reader insight into Perry's contemplations by describing his daydreams and his flashbacks to his civilian life. However, Myers's prose becomes more visceral and disjointed during the periods of intense fighting, during which Perry also finds refuge in his thoughts, but only for brief moments. This back-and-forth mirrors the patterns of the soldiers' lives. While they are out "in the boonies," death can happen in a split second, and they never know when the enemy might attack. In the barracks, however, they settle into life away from home, forge bonds with each other, and try to process their experiences.
There are many antagonists in the novel. Choose two and compare their effect on the protagonist.
Captain Stewart and Lieutenant Dongan are the most defined antagonists in Fallen Angels, especially within the American army. The intent of the American presence in Vietnam is unclear and everyone seems to be biding his or her time until the war is over. Captain Stewart, the commander of Alpha Company, fosters resentment among his troops because he volunteers them for dangerous missions in order to secure his own promotion. He introduces more uncertainty and danger into Perry's life, but he also serves to unify the squad against a common enemy. Captain Stewart is symbolic of the chaos that defined the American effort in Vietnam. He takes advantage of the vacuum of leadership and a lack of cohesion within the American army. Similarly, Perry and his fellow GIs do not trust Lieutenant Dongan, who proves to be a leader in name alone. His obvious anti-Semitic and racist beliefs lead the soldiers under his charge to distrust him and pledge to unite against him in case of a conflict.