Transformation, feminism and gender role in society

This section presents the two main stories of the magazine, Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong and Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been. The two stories' lead characters, Mary Anne and Connie, are also added. The thesis argument, which is important in the literary study of the text, is also included in the introduction.
This is the main part of the study paper. It examines Feminism, Gender Role in Society, and Transformation through the eyes of Mary Ann and Connie. The body explains the change that the two go through in their lives as a result of the situations that they face. There is also a contrast between" A comparison is also made between Mary Ann and Connie and reveal the similarities and the differences between the two.


The conclusion directs at explaining to the reader that a woman is heard by her courage and strength and not her aesthetic beauty.

Works Cited


Tim O'Brien in his story Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong provides a dynamic example of the way the deep roots of someone’s culture could be modified. This is evident Mary Ann who gets transformed and takes masculinity characteristics despite being feminine at first. Her boyfriend ships her over to the Vietnam where she encounters the experiences of the Vietnam War. Vividly, the war profoundly impacts on her life leading to her transformation. The initial description of Mary Anne identifies her to be an innocent stereotypical girl who takes pride in her beauty in order to please men. However, the war makes her undergo radical changes and become wild women. Additionally, in Oates’ story of Where Are You Going, Where have you been?, it is evident how family frustrations and lack of understanding affects Connie making her transform and therefore eloping to live with Arnold. A woman is a powerful force in realizing the required changes in the society. The transformation that Mary Ann and Connie undergo in life are profoundly defining to their life.

Literary Analysis

Mary Anne undergoes a total transformation on the gender stereotypic roles after entering the Vietnam War. The occurrences of the war significantly influence her beliefs and make her undergo changes contrary to what the reader first know about her. Notably, Mary Anne changes affect her entire life. The story of Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong is a vivid depiction of the way war like the Vietnam war could be a life changing event not only in the life of a person but on the entire society. Evidently, the war disrupted the way Mary Ann views the society. The reader can see that when Mary Anne gets initially introduced to the story, she is termed to be an "innocent blonde, just barely out of high school"(O'Brien 90). She is very cautious with her body image and takes care of herself. The author says that Mary Anne develops fear in getting her hands dirty and has a girlish attitude. She wears a pink sweater which is a color that is related to girls. When she is described at first, she has no idea of how war looks like and therefore does not have a slight idea of what the war will cause her life. The smile on her face at first was pure and very innocent. Mary Anne knows that the scene of war is similar to that of the exhibition and she is curious to see it (O'Brien 95). The curiosity she has in seeing the war makes her go to Vietnam to encounter it. She imagines war to be a place of the exhibition, but when time passes by, she starts getting fascinated with the war together with the challenges associat3d with the Vietnam War.

Mary Anne begins to undergo extreme changes that make her become a different person at the time when she leaves the war zone. O'Brien indicates that Mary Ann stopped caring for her nails but became fascinated by the guns, knives and the brutality of the war. She even slept on the cold ground which is a feature that is identified with the battling soldiers. She stops putting on jewelry and her makeup. The face of Mary Anne is later filled with charcoal and not makeup (O'Brien 98). Undoubtedly, there are drastic changes that happen to Mary Ann after leaving the war when compared to before she encountered the Vietnam War. Her voice becomes low, and the sense of life fills her. Evidently, she takes the masculine role and left behind her stereotypical femininity that the society defined for her. The author writes “You come over dirty and you get dirty and then afterward it’s never the same. A question of degree. Some make it intact; some don’t make it at all. For Mary Anne Bell, it seemed, Vietnam had the effect of a powerful drug” (O'Brien 23). The passage is a strong evidence of Mary Ann's transformation in the gender roles after the Vietnam War.

Mary Ann is a strong character who is not rigid to societal changes. She readily welcomes her transition, and this portrays that the society should be willing to change its view on gender roles. O'Brien’s story evidence that women should be allowed to participate in wars and other roles that are identified to be performed by men. The idea of depicting Mary Anne having taken the masculinity after the war powerfully communicates to the society that diminishing women based on their feminine characteristics is unethical. O'Brien clearly indicates that women can be as good as men in the war and thus should be soldiers and partake in the war activities. Undisputedly, Mary Ann at first evidenced a gender gap when she was portrayed to have feminine and innocent character. Thus, the gender stereotypes are not as accurate as they are perceived and that the society should embrace gender equality and not associated women to being innocent and weak creatures. Gender inequality is a factor that affects many communities. Undermining women and looking down upon them demoralized many women. However, the transformation indicates that gender equality is possible even in a male dominated society (Harvey 13).

The society only placed the position of women in the war to be the provision of sex to the soldiers and cooking for them. In the first and the second world wars, women were selected to accompany soldiers to the camps to provide for them the sexual needs and submit to their every demand. Also, the role of women was to welcome the soldiers or heroes back home and therefore became “utterly alien and removed from the circumstances the soldiers are trapped in” (Foster 17). Therefore, O'Brien attacks the idea of gender roles from the feminine standpoint indicating how women were diminished in the society. He also postulates that changes in these stereotypic roles could profoundly impact on the life of women. The war made Mary Anne to be saturated with blood and violence proving that femininity can also take the place of masculinity. The story ends when she has become utterly inhuman characterized with wildness and ends up vanishing in the jungle. Notably, Mary Anne challenges the underlining notion of gender roles which the society has cemented in the highly-masculine community and soldiers (Harvey 5). She displays features that are contrary to the feminine identity. Indeed, the Vietnam War destroyed the femininity in Mary Ann and made her realize that her roles can be transformed. The destruction is a reflection of the shattering beliefs that was long held by the male dominated society. Certainly, Mary Ann is an extreme example of the realization that both genders are equally important in the society and women can do what men are doing.

Oates’ story concerns Connie, a young girl who was going through her teenage life which was a turning point that required attention and understanding. However, what she desires is not readily available to her. Her mother fails to understand her and always compares her to her elder sister June who does not do any wrong. This brings her frustration and torment that makes her escape and leave with Arnold. Connie who is 15 years enjoys to look herself in the mirror and admire her long blond hair along with her beauty. Connie loved to look beautiful and depicted two different personalities when with her family and with friends. Connie’s father does not give her attention, and the idea of being compared to her older sister weighs her down. The line "Connie wished her mother was dead, and she herself was dead, and it was all over" (Oates 21). This demonstrates her real feeling about her life at home and the relationship she has with the mother. Arnold understands her and offers to run with her and give Connie what she needed. Evidently, Arnold profoundly transforms the life of Connie.

The challenges that Connie goes through in the entire story exposes the audience to the question of intense psychological problems that young people face as they go through life. These frustrations make drives them into making unwise decisions concerning their lives. The family mistakes her and terms her actions to be “bowing to absolute forces which her youthful coquetry cannot direct – absolute forces over which she has no control” (Oates 78). One could think that her judgments towards a situation are not clear due to her youthful forces. The relationship she has with the family defines her changes. Connie’s friends tell her the way she looks beautiful while her mother scolds her and tells her to “quit gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?” (Oates 25). The relationship Connie has with June, her sister is also miserable. She develops a resentment and even wished to be dead because “her mother preferred her to June because she was prettier, but the two of them kept up a pretense of exasperation, a sense that they were tugging and struggling over something of little value to either one of them” (Oates 30). Her relationship with Arnold is indeed transformative, and Arnold changes her innocence.

Comparing Mary Ann to Connie, the audience is able to point out some similarities and differences. At the beginning of the two stories, the two characters are obsessed with femininity, and they want to look beautiful and appreciated by everyone around them. However, Mary Anne changes and illustrates a different character which is contrary to that of femininity. She embraces the change and eventually becomes a wild character after encountering the war. Mary Ann takes the masculinity of the soldiers when she is significantly transformed by the Vietnam War. However, the frustrations that Connie undergoes in her family makes her run away and live with Arnold. The father works during the day time, and when he comes at home, he reads only newspapers and does not care about her daughter. He does not have attention for Connie thus does not give her any guidance in life. Notably, the heroism depicted by the two are different. The heroism of Mary Anne comes out when he takes the masculinity role while the heroism of Connie is related to the femininity.

The story of Connie displays the idea of societal social objection. Connie is also viewed to be a sex object, and this displays how men view women in a male dominated society. Oates writes that “Connie carries herself as the type of teen who envisions herself full of autonomy, yet is fulfilling a socially dictated role” (Oates 29). This represents how women perception of self and the social element of identity controls the life of numerous teenage girls. Conditions that are presented in social order make women endure what men cannot be able to handle. The story of Where are you going, Where have you been is an accurate depiction of feminine allegory which is contrary to Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong which has both femininity and masculinity (Foster 10).


Historical injustices against women proved to undermine their value in the society. Women believed that being beautiful was significant to the men. Women were thought to be sexual objects which were an aspect that greatly diminished their worth. Additionally, women faced a challenge of inequality and gender discrimination was rampant. However, Mary Ann through her transformation demonstrates that a woman is heard by her courage and strength and not her beauty. For a society to realize changes in the gender roles, women have to come out as string creatures and oppose the undermining societal roles that the society places on them. Women should be courageous and fight for their rights in order to realize equality. Certainly, the male domination was a facet that significantly weighed down the female gender. These men were the steering force in reinforcing oppressive female roles together with looking down upon them. The transformation that is evident in Mary Ann speaks of the need to change the stereotypes that are associated with women.

Works Cited

Foster, Thomas C. How To Read Literature Like A Professor. New York, Harper Perennial, 2014,.

Harvey, P. Caspar. "Analysis In Teaching The Short-Story." The English Journal, vol 8, no. 2, 1919, p. 97. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/801289.

O'Brien, Tim. The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010,.

Oates Joyce Carol. Where Are You Going, Where have you been? Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1977,.

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