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“Be Safe I Love You” a Book by Cara Hoffman Essay

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Updated: Sep 22nd, 2020

One of the main indications that a particular novel does represent much literary value has been considered the narrated piece’s ability to serve the cause of helping people to expand their intellectual horizons, which contributes to the society’s overall betterment. As a rule, this is accomplished by the mean of the author encouraging readers to recognize the societal implications of the abstractly sounding terms and notions, which have a great effect on the unraveling of the plot throughout its entirety.

When assessed from this particular perspective, Cara Hoffman’s 2014 novel Be Safe I Love You will indeed appear rather invaluable. The reason for this is quite apparent. In the aftermath of having been exposed to Hoffman’s novel, readers will be much more likely to recognize the symptoms of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in a person.

What is even more important – they will also be able to gain a better understanding of what accounts for the disorder’s discursive significance as an integral part of contemporary living in today’s America. In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length while arguing that the author particularly excelled in describing the commonly overlooked ‘weak’ and ‘mild’ symptoms of PTSD and illustrating the point with examples from the text.

Generally speaking, the plot of Be Safe I Love You revolves around the story of Lauren Clay – a woman in her mid-twenties and the former US soldier, who after having been stationed on active duty in Iraq, came back to reunite with her father (Jack) and her younger brother (Danny) in the upstate New York. While becoming ever more affected by PTSD, without being fully aware of it, Lauren ends up taking Danny in the Canadian wilderness with the essentially psychotic intention to teach him some survival skills – the deed that clearly bounced on the edge of being determined a kidnapping. Although Be Safe I Love You ends on a rather optimistic note, the author leaves only a few doubts as to the fact that the workings of Lauren’s psyche will be forever affected by her wartime memories.

Throughout the novel’s initial chapters, Lauren does not seem to exhibit any clear signs of having trouble with trying to adjust to the realities of a civilian living in America. In fact, the protagonist herself applies much effort into trying to stick to her rational conviction that she will be able to benefit in a number of different ways from adopting the lifestyle of a civilian person. As it was mentioned in the novel: “(Lauren) thought about the promise of relief that would come from doing everyday things like washing dishes, gazing out the window at kids playing by the duplex next door, taking Danny to the movies” (Hoffman 7).

Nevertheless, as time goes on, the protagonist’s friends and relatives grow increasingly aware that she is not quite the same person, as compared to what she used to be, prior to having enlisted to serve in the US Army. In particular, Lauren appears to be affected by some irrational/illusive angst, extrapolated by the manner in which the main character addresses life-challenges.

This angst, in turn, has been triggered by the fact that, ever since she came back to the US, Lauren never ceased experiencing the sensation of cognitive dissonance between what used to account for her pre-military identity and what she became after having served in Iraq as a platoon leader: “Lauren looked at the other pictures in the room… A face she’d once had and would not be getting back. Here is what you were and what you won’t be again” (Hoffman, 34).

Such a sensation, on the protagonist’s part, correlates flawlessly with the main provision of the DSM-5 Criteria for diagnosing war-veterans with PTSD – the concerned individuals tend to perceive the realities of a civilian living as being ‘artificial’ to a large extent, in the sense that there are way too many ‘unnecessary’ rules and regulations to it (Phillips 2). In the PTSD-affected mind of a war-veteran, this situation appears rather intolerable, because it contradicts the ‘survival of the fittest’ principle, which those with military experience, consider the main guiding-principle of social dynamics in just about any society, regardless of whatever happened to be the affiliated circumstances.

Therefore, there is nothing too odd about the fact that throughout the novel’s entirety, Lauren cannot help referring to the rest of civilian Americans as innately ‘corrupted’ individuals, not capable of prioritizing the country’s national interests above their personal highly egoistic agendas in life: “She’d come home to a world of fragile baby animals. Soft inarticulate wide-eyed morons with know-nothing epiphanies and none of them — not one of them — did what she said… She could accept that these people didn’t know how to lead or follow, but they could at least shut up” (Hoffman, 159).

It is understood, of course, that the very paradigm of ‘American living’ as we know it, presupposes that citizens are entitled to hold free opinions about what is going on in the country. However, due to the PTSD-induced deterioration (initially unnotable) of Lauren’s mental condition, the character’s conviction, in this respect, became compulsively obsessive to a large degree – hence, causing her to believe that American society is bound to collapse under the weight of its own unsustainability.

And, once there is no governmentally imposed law and order, it becomes solely up to every individual citizen ensuring its physical survival. Therefore, it is thoroughly natural for PTSD-sufferers (at least, as seen from their perspective) to concern themselves with the matters of physical survival, with the thought that such their tendency is by large mentally deviant, never even occur to them. The character of Lauren Clay illustrates the validity of this suggestion perfectly well.

For example, she could not come up with any better idea as for Danny’s (a thirteen-year-old kid) gift than presenting him with a combat knife: “She’d bought a SEAL pup knife for Danny. Now that she’d seen how much he’d grown, she wished she’d gotten him the full-size knife” (Hoffman 26). Thus, there is nothing incidental about the fact that Lauren ended up taking Danny to the woods through the novel’s advanced chapters. Such an eventual development was predetermined from the very beginning, because even though it goes unnoticed by many readers, the process of Lauren’s PTSD-related mental descent began as soon, as the character has set its foot in the US.

The fact that this has been indeed the case can be shown concerning what appear to have accounted for the early symptoms of the protagonist developing the mental condition in question. One of them had to do with Lauren’s post-Iraqi tendency to remain on a constant lookout for incoming troubles: “The significance of nightmares was not lost on Lauren; she knew all about the scenes that repeat themselves, the feelings of ‘hyper-vigilance’.

And that’s why none of it would get her. She knew what was coming, and she knew how it would end” (Hoffman, 38). Apparently, after having returned from Iraq, Lauren was never able to stop perceiving the surrounding natural and social reality from the ‘military’ perspective – something that kept the character’s brain in the state of ‘high concentration’ at all times and consequently resulted in causing Lauren to grow increasingly neurotic and behaviourally unpredictable.

The latter consequence could not be any different. Being the instrument of addressing the utterly urgent and cognitively complex mental tasks (the most resource-consuming process in the human body), one’s brain was never ‘designed’ to be kept in the analytically alert mode on a constant basis. Therefore, it is thoroughly explainable why, as Lauren’s storyline develops, the character becomes increasingly inadequate – at least in the eyes of her loved ones.

Another notable symptom of PTSD, commonly exhibited by the affected war-veterans, is these people’s strongly defined sense of sarcasm and their cynical attitudes – something that comes as the result of the concerned individuals’ wartime realization that the value of one’s life is not even nearly as ‘sacred’ as most civilians happened to believe. The novel’s main character is there to demonstrate the full legitimacy of this statement – the very flow of Lauren’s thoughts implies her deep-seated disregard of any humanistic conventions, with respect to the sacredness of life.

For example, upon being asked whether she has ever had a chance to save a person’s life while in Iraq, Lauren replied: “I saved millions from the inconvenience of taking public transportation… And I saved a bunch of fucking money in my own bank account” (Hoffman 71).

We can speculate that Lauren used to suffer from experiencing much remorse for having contributed towards causing ‘collateral damage’ to Iraqi civilians while realizing that most people in America remain utterly arrogant, as to the actual outcomes of the American politicians’ commitment to the cause of promoting ‘democracy’ across the world. Therefore, by providing people with politically incorrect answers to the questions about what were the protagonist’s wartime experiences in Iraq, Lauren unconsciously strived to redeem her illusively felt a sense of guilt to an extent.

Essentially the same can be said about the significance of the protagonist’s prominently defined realist/materialist outlook on the significance of the ‘metaphysical’ phenomena, such as religion: “People loved this religious stuff because it actually made no sense. Just like the war made no sense. And she (Lauren) knew now for certain that feeling of mystery, that impenetrable false logic was necessary to make people do stupid things” (Hoffman 52).

Because of having been exposed to the harsh realities of war, Lauren knew that when stripped of the skin-deep level of their civilizational refinement, the representatives of the Homo Sapiens species are nothing but ‘hairless apes’, driven by the animalistic instincts of food, sex, and domination. At the same time, however, Laura appears to have been born an idealistically minded person – something that made it quite impossible for the character to attain emotional comfortableness with the realization of this unsightly truth on her part. In its turn, this created the objective preconditions for Laura’s disorder to become progressively less controllable.

Slowly but surely, the protagonist continued to allow the symptoms of PTSD to overtake her psyche, which ultimately resulted in causing Lauren to end up preoccupied with the thoughts of death and destruction – even when there were no rational motivations for her to act in this way. The following line of deductive reasoning, on the part of the novel’s main character, it quite illustrative, in this respect: “Never and always are separated by a wasp’s waist, a small sliver of safety glass, one bead of sweat; separated by the seven seconds it takes to exhale the air from your lungs, to make your body as still as the corpse you are about to create” (Hoffman 208).

Therefore, if anything Hoffman’s novel can be deemed implausible the least – because of having been provided with many discursive clues as to the continual worsening of the protagonist’s mental condition, readers perceive Lauren’s clearly bizarre intention to cut ties with civilization and the consequential plot-developments thoroughly explainable.

In light of what has been mentioned earlier, it will be thoroughly logical to confirm the soundness of the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, the author of Be Safe I Love You does deserve to be given credit for having succeeded rather spectacularly in helping readers to understand the psychological triggers of PTSD-symptoms, experienced by war-veterans. This, of course, endows Hoffman’s masterpiece with the strong humanist spirit and consequently makes it possible for Be Safe I Love You to serve the cause of strengthening the integrity of American society.

After all, an integral part of this task has always been considered the establishment of the social prerequisites for American war-veterans to refrain from indulging in escapism, as the most effective way to lessen the severity of their PTSD-anxieties.

Works Cited

Hoffman, Cara. Be Safe I Love You. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. Print.

Phillips, James. “PTSD in DSM-5: Understanding the Changes.” Psychiatric Times 32.9 (2015): 1-5. Print.

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