The Things They Carried

How do Mary Anne's actions conflict with stereotypical or traditional images about women and what might her transformation symbolize in regards to America's experience in Vietnam?

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The lesson to be drawn from Mary Anne’s story is that the war affects women exactly the same way it does men. Women, too, can be driven mad. In this story, the madness takes the form of a transformation from one familiar literary stock figure to another: the innocent Madonna figure to the sexy seductress. Not only does Mary Anne become a killer, but she also becomes a sexually liberated femme fatale.

In her sexy sweater and innocent pants-skirt combination, no one could seem more innocent, or more American than Mary Anne. In the beginning of the story, she is something recognizable to both the soldiers and the reader: a normal American girl who wants a family. The story of her mutation into something foreign, a killer, mirrors the transformation of all of the soldiers. They go to war as boys and return from war as killers.

Before Mary Anne’s transformation in complete, she begins blurring the line of recognizable gender roles. She stops showering, covers her feminine long hair, and stops wearing makeup. She is transformed into a mannish figure and she enjoys the transformation. The soldiers are horrified and titillated by her transformation and subversion. Mary Anne may have stopped thinking of herself as a woman, but she does not wholly kill her sexual appeal. Even, or especially, after mutating into something almost unrecognizable, a mixture of the femme fatale and the killer, she remains sexually desirable, even lovable. Riley claims: “We were all in love with her.”