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Significance of the Title
Komunyakaa wrote the poem after his first visit to the Vietnam War memorial (“Overview: Facing It” 1). This means that he wrote the poem twenty years after the war. It took him two decades of introspection in order to express his opinion regarding his experience in the Vietnam War. Thus, the title of the poem reflected the inner turmoil inside the man. A part of him wanted to forget the past. However, another part of him wanted to confront the awful memories of the Vietnam War.
The opening lines enabled the reader to see how the author struggled to face the past. Komunyakaa was not able to control his emotions. He was not able to stop the tears. He tried his best to shield his heart from the pain. He tried to reassure himself that he was impervious to emotional pain. However, it did not work, because he was affected by the names that were written on the granite walls. He finally relented when he acknowledged that he was made of flesh and blood.
When he was face-to-face with the war memorial, his mind struggled to focus on the names that were written on the black stones. He tried to look away, but he said that there was something about the reflected image that haunted him. The author said that he felt the judgmental gaze of a bird of prey.
Nevertheless, he did not flinch, and he did not turn away. This is the reason why he finally acknowledged the need to face the past. The poem allowed him to finally confront the terror of the war. This is one of the reasons why the title of the poem described the inner turmoil of the author.
Experiences Reflected in the War Memorial
Without a doubt, it was daytime when he came to visit the war memorial. However, it is interesting to note that he penned the following words: “the profile of night slanted against morning” (Johnson 1). It seemed to suggest that when he was face-to-face with the war memorial, the author was transported back to the time of the conflict. Thus, he re-experienced the struggles that he faced during the daytime and the terror that he encountered during the night.
He was compelled to scan the list of fallen warriors in order to locate the name, Andrew Johnson. Once, he located the said name, he immediately remembered the time when he was in the jungles of Vietnam. He specifically remembered a booby trap that went off like a flash-bang grenade.
He said that brush strokes flashed before him. It was as if he saw a painting, and the painting had images of war. When he was in front of the war memorial, it enabled the author to travel back to the time when skies were filled with warplanes. He was made aware of the difference between war and peace. He saw machines that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
Possible meanings of the last three lines
Here are three possible interpretations for the last three lines. The first interpretation is that the author was horrified when he thought that the woman tried to erase the names of his comrade-in-arms. It was painful to remember the ordeal that he went through during the Vietnam war.
However, it was ten times harder to endure the pain of apathy, when the survivors of the war decided to forget what had transpired halfway around the world. Thus, it was a moment of dread for the author, because he thought that it was a deliberate effort to wipe away precious memories. He was therefore relieved when he discovered that the lady had no desire to wipe away the memories of the fallen heroes.
The second interpretation is that the woman tried to wipe away the memories of the fallen soldier in her life. The fallen warrior was her husband, and he died in the war. It was a painful episode in her life, and she wanted to forget the bad memories.
Therefore, she tried to erase any evidence that linked her and the fallen soldier. She needed to forget in order to move on with her life. The boy as her child from her second husband. The boy was the fruit of the new relationship that she had after she learned that her former husband was killed in action.
The third interpretation is that the woman represented the young mothers who were widowed during the Vietnam war. The lady that wiped the hair of the boy represented the women who bore children while their husbands were fighting in the war. They struggled throughout the duration of the war.
Nevertheless, they made the decision not to dishonor the memory of their deceased husbands. The polished granite walls reflected the struggles of the women. The reflection also represented the lady’s ability to touch two realms. On one hand she was connected to the past, and on the other hand, she was connected to her present reality.
The best interpretation was the one wherein the author feared the deliberate attempt to wipe out the memories of the fallen warriors. The author was relieved when he found out that there was no attempt to forget the sacrifices made during the war. It can be argued, that the author was thankful, that the names of his comrades were engraved on granite walls because he was assured that no one will ever forget them.
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The public memorial
The author’s words suggested that the Vietnam war memorial accomplished its goal. It was able to remind people about the great sacrifice that was made in the name of freedom and democracy. His own reaction proved that the war memorial had the power to stir up forgotten memories. It had the power to compel people to remember the brutality of war, therefore, everyone must work hard to prevent the outbreak of war.
The author provided a creative explanation as to why the war memorial was able to accomplish its goals. He pointed out that the polished granite was not only an elegant tool to bear the names of brave men, but it was also a tool that enabled war veterans to reflect on the impact of the war on their lives. The author highlighted the importance of the names written on granite walls.
The memorial displayed the names of the soldiers. If the designers created structures that glorified the violent conflict, it can be argued that the focus will be on the conflict, and not the soldiers. Thus, it was easier to forget the war that caused the death of at least 57,000 Americans. When the author made a special mention of a fallen soldier, he wanted to show the emotional power of the names. When veterans of the war came to visit, the names enabled them to remember specific aspects of the war.
Johnson, Jeannine. Critical Essay on “Facing It”. Poetry for Students. 1999. Web.
“Overview: ‘Facing It’.” Poetry for Students. 1999. Web.