In the short story, Love, by Robert Olen Butler, the cultural expectation requiring women to be faithful to their husbands, and the cultural definition of beauty in the Vietnamese society, contributed to several conflicts between Boum and her husband.
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This assertion holds weight when an examination of the cultural expectations Buom’s husband had on her, and the treatment she received from Vietnamese men compared to America men. Her husband faces an epic conflict with Tra Van Ha, a fellow Vietnamese living in America, that has unique elements compared to the many conflicts he has previously with other men over his wife.
Faithfulness in marriage is an expectation on many women in different cultures across the world. Men are somewhat excused for infidelity. Buom is unfaithful to her husband because she attracts a lot of attention from men, and her husband’s greatest fear is that “some of them would try to have her” (Butler). He feels threatened by them and calls himself a wimp, but prides himself in his beautiful wife and his past as a spy. The conflicts the husband experiences are with Vietnamese men.
Despite living near an American military camp and later within the US, the problem of Buom’s infidelity revolves only around Vietnamese men. This brings to sharp focus the cultural differences in the definition of beauty by Vietnamese standards. Granted, she attracted the attention of the American soldiers such that, “the GI jeeps would slam on their breaks and honk” (Butler).
Yet her husband says no American gave a shot at going out with his wife. (Butler). We conclude that the interest in Boum by Vietnamese men has something to do with the cultural definition of beauty within the Vietnamese society that differs from America.
The distraught husband writes the entire story from his hospital bed, from where he recollects all the conflicts he had because of his wife’s beauty with Vietnamese men. He begins in Vietnam, where he dealt with several instances of infidelity. His approach then was subtle and lethal. After identifying the offending man, he says, “I would send a warning to the man” (Butler). If the warning went unheeded, he proceeded to call an air raid on the offending man’s whereabouts using his intelligence connections with the American army.
This approach was dramatic, but very subtle. In America, he finds himself in a similar problem, but this time with a single Vietnamese man. This time the conflict is elevated because he lacks his power to “bring fire from heaven” (Butler). He opts to see a Voodoo Practitioner, and while setting out to fulfill the instructions he received, he catches his wife red handed with Tra Van Ha. By then he has had three oppotunities to deny her, all of which he passes. He resorts to physical violence, showing a new level of escalation in the conflict.
Boum is a beautiful woman. She causes her wimpy husband distress by being unfaithful to him. Her unfaithfulness seems to have cultural boundaries. While she is attractive to both Americans and Vietnamese men, the Vietnamese men cause actual harm.
We can conclude that there are cultural elements in this regard since the problems Boum presents to her husband rotate around a particular cultural context. If there were no expectations on her to be faithful, then her husband would not have dealt with the multiple conflicts he faced. In addition, the Vietnamese view of beauty seems to influence the situation such that more Vietnamese men had the inkling to go after a married woman, as compared to the Americans.
Butler, Robert Olen. “Love.” Henry Holt, & Co. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. Penguin Books, 1993.