English 321 – American Masterpieces
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.
Born on the Fourth of July – Discussion Questions
scholars argue that Born on the Fourth of July subverts fundamental
American values and myths. What
values and myths does Ron Kovic subscribe to before his experience in
Vietnam? How are those values and
- As the
title implies, Born on the Fourth of July is the story of a man’s
birth. It is a bildungsroman
“education novel” that describes one person’s maturation from a boy to a
man. Trace Ron Kovic’s
passage. What events signify the
stages of his development? What
does he learn from the journey? In
what ways can his rite of passage be read as an allegory?
how Born on the Fourth of July supports the “monomyth” of the
Western Cowboy and the Western Frontier?
many ways this narrative is a story about the importance of communities in
our lives. List the communities
that Ron Kovic participates in in the course of the narrative. Define each community. How does the community function? What happens to the community? Is the community ever in conflict with
the individual? What values does
the community emphasize? What does
Kovic gain or lose from each community?
the “father figures” in this story.
How is Born on the Fourth of July a testament of the
father/son relationship? In your
examination of the father/son relationship, consider as well Kovic’s
description of his mother and other women in the narrative. How are paternal and maternal images
handled in Kovic’s story?
Kovic is psychologically devastated by his physical wound. He is outraged by his physical
emasculation. But how is the
physical wound a symbol of other wounds—psychological, political,
spiritual—of not only Kovic, but others?
Is the book a book about the death of an ideal, of a country, a
has sometimes been described as a righteous country that abhors
violence—yet it used napalm against the people of Vietnam. You may rightfully consider much of
this book to be obscene and personally offensive. But look carefully at what repulses
you. Why is it obscene? How does Kovic use this obscenity to
develop the themes in the narrative, as well as develop the tone? Is he merely trying to shock the reader
to sell books? Can you defend this
“literature,” which is full of violence and profanity, as an edifying
part of me was upset that people were swimming naked in the national
monument and the other part of me completely understood that now it was
their pool, and what good is a pool if you can’t swim in it…I couldn’t
understand why this was happening, why the police would attack the people,
running them into the grass with their horses and beating them with their
Explain to Kovic what is the reason
to have pools you can’t swim in. Exlain
why the police were beating the protestors.
have lain all night in the rain in ambush together. We have burned anthills with kerosene
and stalked through Sally’s Woods with plastic machine guns, shooting
people out of trees. We have been
a generation of violence and madness, of dead Indians and drunken cowboys,
of iron pipes full of matchheads.”
The rate of violent crime in
America is higher than in any other industrialized country. The number of children killed by firearms
between 1979 and 1991 equals the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam
War. What statement if any does Kovic
make about American violence in Born on the Fourth of July? How do you account for the tremendous
violence in our nation? Is this a part
of our “Western” heritage? Or is this
too a myth?
scholars will say that one purpose of literature is to criticize
society. Assuming this is true,
what criticisms does Kovic make of American institutions in Born on the
Fourth of July?
- What knowledge
or understanding do you have of the Vietnam War from your previous study
or from personal experience? How
does this knowledge or understanding compare to Kovic’s description of the
war? In what way is Kovic’s an
autobiography? In what way is it a
Quiz on Vietnam
the Vietnam War, what was the capital of North Vietnam? Hanoi
the Vietnam War, what was the capital of South Vietnam? Saigon
American President first committed several hundred military advisors to
South Vietnam? Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, Harry S. Truman gave financial
and military aid to the French in their war against the Vietnamese.
was the Domino Theory?
was the difference between the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese?
- In what
year was the first American soldier killed in Vietnam? One
what year were the first American ground troops (not classified as
advisors) sent to Vietnam? 1965. This was
also the first year that the U.S. began bombing North Vietnam
was the general of the North Vietnamese Army? Giap
was one of the generals of the American forces? William Westmoreland
was president of South Vietnam when it fell to North Vietnam? Thieu, April
was President of the United States when South Vietnam fell? Gerald Ford
was the Tet Offensive?
- Name the Secretary of Defense under Lyndon Baines
Johnson. Robert McNamara
- Name the two men who won the Nobel Peace Prize
for negotiating a peace in Vietnam?
Which of the two men refused to accept his prize? Le Duc Tho and Henry
Kissinger. Le Duc Tho
how many American men and women served in Vietnam? 2.7 million
how many American men and women were killed in Vietnam? 58,000
percentage of the Vietnamese population was killed in the Vietnam
percent of four million inhabitants
much money did the United States spend on the War in Vietnam? $150 billion
year did the last American soldiers leave Vietnam? April 30, 1975
designed the Vietnam War Memorial?