Where does the story of Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong take place? Upon reading the story, one would first assume that it takes place in Vietnam. Upon further examination, however, it becomes quite evident that it really takes place inside Rat Kiley\'s head. This isn\'t to declare the story false; instead, one should examine the influence and literary freedom that Rat flexes upon the truth. "For Rat Kiley… facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around." (101) The story occurs in two separate but equally chaotic places: Vietnam, and Rat\'s head. The story intertwines between the two settings, and in order to completely grasp the idea behind them, one must first recognize, then separate and analyze the two settings.
Upon the first reading of this work, the reader finds himself dropping into the story of a seemingly misplaced girl in Vietnam. The role of Rat Kiley seems somewhat minor and irrelevant. Upon the second and third times through, however, his role as the storyteller stands out. It becomes more evident that he holds Mary Anne with the highest regard. He romanticizes her relationship with the war. He is so amazed with the fact that a girl can be seduced by the lure of the wilderness that he begins to talk about her with the listeners as if she were the attractive girl from school that everyone knows but nobody dates. " \'You know…I loved her. Mary Anne made you think about those girls back home, how clean and innocent they all are.\' " (123)
Rat is pushing his views upon the listener. He is shaping how the story is seen. The reader sees "triple-canopied jungle, mountains unfolding into higher mountains, ravines and gorges and fast-moving rivers and waterfalls and exotic butterflies and steep cliffs and smoky little hamlets and great valleys of bamboo and elephant grass." (103) The actual reality of the situation is added by the narrator, as extrapolated from Rat: that they were in an almost completely indefensible situation. Had somebody cared enough to take control of the little base, there would be no resistance.
Rat wanted to let the reader know his opinion on the citizens of the Viet Cong, how he wants the listener to think of them. "Mary Anne asked, \'They\'re human beings, aren\'t they? Like everybody else?\' Fossie nodded. He loved her." (107) Rat lets us know that he thinks the VC are less then human. Why did Fossie nod, in Rat\'s opinion? Not because he thought Fossie felt she was right, but because he loved her. Because Rat feels that the VC are subhuman, part of the jungle, he sees Fossie\'s nod as a patronizing nod to an unknowing inductee to the jungle.
Rat, at every turn, tries to "make [the truth] burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt." (101) Rat makes the reader constantly want to love Vietnam, to love the intricacies of the jungle, to love the trill of danger and imminent threat of death. " \'It\'s like trying to tell somebody what chocolate tastes like.\' " (123) The audience gets a somewhat gentle reminder from Mitchell Sanders, as he declares " \'Or shit.\' " (123) "But Rat Kiley couldn\'t help it. He wanted to bracket the full range of meaning." (116) Rat wants to inject within the reader a love similar to his toward Mary Anne. He wants the reader to want to become one with the jungle. He wants the reader to understand that there is a base human connection with nature, and that one doesn\'t have to be a man to feel it. It isn\'t about man vs. woman, it\'s about humans vs. nature. Everybody comes in without a clue. They get their view on the future and humanity raped away by the deflowering of reality in the jungle. They begin to understand what matters and what doesn\'t.
On it\'s superficial level, Song Tra Bong is about a story. This story takes place within a character. Rat "had a tendency to stop now and then, interrupting the flow, inserting little clarifications or bits of analysis and personal opinion." (116) Rat molded the view of the story. He shows the reader what Rat deems important, and he constantly