Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Examine the use of imagery (simile, metaphor, etc.) in the excerpt from Michael Herr's Dispatches. Do you notice any pattern to Herr's choice of images? What purpose or purposes do the images generally serve? Was there one particular image or set of images that caught your attention while reading? Why?


Mitchell Epstein said...

In the excerpt from "Dispatches," Michael Herr uses imagery often and in a similar pattern. Herr used images that portrayed the reality of Vietnam and its effects on the minds of soldiers. The images he chose to use also reflected his own feelings traveling around Vietnam, such as fear, excitement and confusion.
The images serve two main purposes, including accurately and efficiently informing the reader of what is taking place in Vietnam. Herr tries to be as open as possible about both his and the soldiers' experiences in Vietnam. He does not try to downplay anything that occurs and he attempts to analyze the soldiers' behavior, such as the soldier who repeatedly fired his M-16 at a group of dead bodies. Another purpose that the images serve is that they grab the reader's attention in a way that a traditional war correspondent story could not. The unorganized nature of the excerpt causes the reader to slowly think about what is occurring and it offers a fresh perspective on the war. A traditional war story with chronological and precise direction could not do this.
One particular image that caught my attention when I was reading the excerpt was the image of Herr riding in a helicopter full of dead bodies. This captured my attention because of the way Herr described his time in that helicopter, especially the part when a poncho that covered a dead body was blown off by the wind and he saw the person's face with the eyes wide open. This created a powerful image in my mind because it showed the gruesome nature of war and its impact on journalists who cover it.

Emmi said...

I think Michael Herr used the imagery to make his story more personal. It makes the War more imagenable for the reader. The reader can see what Herr sees and almost feel what he feels. It makes the Vietnam War more real. Most war news reporting is very unpersonal, because it is a normal news story, no personal views, ideas and/or descriptions. That makes this story different.
I think the way Herr sort of talks to the reader, makes the story very personal and describes the situation where the soldiers, Herr and other reporters are in. Better than normal war reports.
Like Mitchell, I was really caught by the part where Herr is flying in a helicopter filled with dead bodies. How would that have smelled?! And then one of the poncho's falls off, that must have been awefull. Quotes that made me remember this part: "(I remember too thinking that a chopper full of dead men was far less likely to get shot down than one full of living.)and "My hand went there a couple of times and I couldn't, and then I did it ... I couldn't believe I'd done it."
It really shows the other, real side of the war. You read about people who get killed, but you don't read about these transportations. And sometimes you forget that reporters are in danger too. The war situation comes really close with Herr's story.

Alison said...

Michael Herr uses graphic imagery, and detailed descriptions in "Dispatches," from his own experiences during the war to capture the audiences attention and help us to understand how he felt being there.
One motif I saw in the excerpt was the mentioning of sexual words such as "porn," "sexiest," "paraphernalia," and "dirty." By using these suggestive words Herr is able to show the vulgarity of the war through his word choices.
Another motif Herr uses is "time." The fact that Herr is able to move from one place to another by chopper at his will shows us how time is important and that constant moving in time will keep you alive. Even with the helmet "Time is on my side,"the motif is shown.
One image that stuck out in my mind was "The moon came up nasty and full, a fat moist piece of decadent fruit. It was soft and saffron-misted when you looked up at it, but its light over the sandbags and into the jungle was harsh and bright." I like this passage because I can imagine the moon being a big peach, juicy and desirable, bright and cheery; very much the opposite of a war-like atmosphere.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

If you were to take out all the imagery in the excerpt from Michael Herr’s Dispatches, the story would not have the effect that it does. His choices of words to create the images transport you to the middle of all these events with him. The purpose of the images is not only to illustrate what the war was like, but the personalities he encountered, as well as the feelings and thoughts he experienced during his time in Vietnam. Without his detailed descriptions Herr would not have been able to vividly tell readers what it was like to be in Vietnam during the war. Had he just mentioned the facts, like a normal war story, he would have left out so many of the unique conversations that occurred such as meeting the 4th Division Lurp who always took his pills. These unique encounters he chooses to include and describe in so much detail differentiates this war story from others.
This character that Herr chooses to tell his readers about really sounds like a description of so many other people he met. He describes the way he stood in the jungle, “as a fallen tree” and what looking into his eyes was like, “looking at the floor of an ocean”. By using dialogue he tells us what his life was. By going into detail about him Herr paints the image of soldiers everywhere and the effects the war had on them. The imagery gives you a sense of what the war was like and how often they were unable to leave that lifestyle behind.
The image that caught my attention the most was when he gets on the helicopter with the dead bodies. He starts by telling you his feelings and even includes parentheses to tell you about a more personal. Then he tells you what he saw, what he thought was unusual or wrong about the picture. The sequence that he tells this particular scene in was so effective. It is as if he gives his reader a blank canvas and slowly starts to draw on it and then colors it in. He paints the image of the poncho flying off, his eyes being open, the gunner’s reaction, his hesitations and feelings, all so quickly but still so intensely.

Howie Good said...

Imagery refers to metaphor and simile. These are specific types of literary devices. You should try to identify them as you read Herr and other literary journalists. For purposes of this question, you should analyze a metaphor or simile or a set of metaphors or similes that Herr uses in the story.

Julie said...

The images at Herr uses throughout the story make it as powerful as it is. Without these images, it would be just another war story, but the way that he sees what's going on makes the reader connect to the story because it becomes a little more personal. The part that really stuck in my head was the following: "But you could fly up and into hot tropic sunsets that would change the way you thought about light forever. You could also fly out of places that were so grim they turned to black and white in your head five minutes after you'd gone." This quote shows the reader the positive and negative in everything, but specifically war. I think that he's trying to say that sometimes you see something that make it worthwhile, but other times he finds himself back in the debate as to why he was there. By illustrating a major idea like that, it makes it sound almost poetic.

Alyssa said...

Michael Herr's "Dispatches" is basically one big image. The extreme amount of details he uses to describe events make the reader connect to what they're reading in a much more personal way, which is what I think Herr was trying to accomplish. The descriptions and images he portrays are heightened and furthered by the words choice and way he strings words together to create a central concept or theme. One concept he focuses on to explain what war is really like, is motion. He achieves this through constant reference to choppers and movement in general. "Best way's to just keep moving, just keep moving, stay in motion, you know what I'm saying?" "He was a moving-target-survivor-subscriber, a true child of the war, because except for the rare times when you were pinned or stranded the system was geared to keep you mobile." It seems that constant mobility was the key to surviving Vietnam. Herr's reference to the jungle on numerous occasions also creates the image that Vietnam was a wild time in regard to the combat and the people involved. Herr's graphic reference to the dead bodies and stench that he was surrounded by, the face make-up and the descriptions of the uniforms and landscape, all give the piece a uniquely personal glimpse into war, almost as if the reader is watching a short film or physically looking at pictures. It goes beyond the general, straight reporting of facts and numbers that most news stories about war give. It gives it a human face.

Howie Good said...

Let me try again: Metaphors and similes are distinct literary devices. When one speaks of imagery, one is referring not to descriptive words (adjectives or adverbs) per se, but to metaphors and similes. Metaphors are comparisons that don't use like or as, while similes are comparisons that do use like or as. Herr's story seethes with similes.

Kimmy said...

It makes sense to use metaphors to describe war. Most of the readers he is writing for have not experienced war (except for pictures/news). Relating a certain aspect of the war to an image that we know and do experience every day is a way to make the reader be able to relate. Herr uses imagery from all ends of every spectrum, from a frozen yellow ribbon (my favorite metaphor!) to an elephant to porn magazines.
While reading I tried to find a common theme among all of these metaphors Herr used. I found two.
The first one was the use of animals. The first sentence of this passage begins with comparing pills (and the effect on ones breath) to a snake.
"Going out at night the medics gave you pills, Dexadrine breath like dead snakes kept too long in a jar." Some other references to animals are:
-"A couple of rounds fired off in the dark a kilometer away and the Elephant would be there kneeling on my chest, sending me down into my boots for a breath."
-"Choppers fell out of the sky like fat poisoned birds a hundred times a day."
Honestly, I'm not too sure why the frequent mention of animals. I'll give it a try. My guess is to give the war an image of, not so much chaos, but non-order. In a few scenes, there is mention of people moving from here and there, helicopter going from this place to that, which kind of (maybe?) can related the behavior of animals, more so than humans.
The second theme amongst the imageries I found was color. My favorite of these is: "But you could fly up and into hot tropic sunsets that would change the way you thought about light forever. You could also fly out of places that were so grim they turned to black and white in your head five minutes after you'd done."
Herr continues to talk about color throughout the story. Some more examples:
-"He had one of those faces, I saw that face at least a thousand times at a hudred bases and camps, all the youth sucked out of the eyes, the color drawn from the skin, cold white lips, you knew he wouldn't wait for any of it to come back.
- "It was flushed and mottled and twisted like he had his face skin on inside out, a patch of green that was too dark, a streak of red running into bruise purple, a lot of sick gray white in between, he looked like he'd had a heart attack out there.

pierce said...

I did notice a couple of pattern's in Herr's imagery. He used animals a lot. One that I particularly like was when he likens death to an Elephant kneeling on his chest. I think that the animal metaphors were mainly to connect himself and the events he experienced directly to the jungle he was surrounded by. Another thing I noticed was that he kept using metaphors or similes that made the war seem more like entertainment. Any time he could liken it to either a rock concert or a film he did. He says that he and the soldiers were the Rolling Stones and that the soldiers faces looked old and drained of life but they were locked in on this singular event like the audience of a rock concert. I think that these images are meant to try and make us feel closer to the war even though it is something that you can't really experience without being there.

James Nani said...

While I was reading I got the feeling that I was at a circus. Three rings, trapeze acts and no ringmaster. The first imagery that stuck with me was the helicopters. At times they seemed like refuge, but later they just seem like a wild trapeze act, swinging bodies, soldiers, and journalists from one place to another, not even safe in the air. At one point he called them "bloated bird's." Herr constantly bombards the reader with imagery, both gruesome and solemn. He describes group death, saying some are "hanging over barbed wire or thrown promiscuously on top of other dead, or up into trees terminal acrobats, Look what I can do." The diverse amount of imagery that Herr describes capitalizes on his many different elements,showing the wide range of experiences, ideas, and thoughts that race or pace through Herr's mind. In seems to try very hard to describe something that still seems impossible to convey. So he pulls out every thought and image to try to do it some kind of justice. The helicopters particularly intrigued me since they gave the war a surreal feel of physcially getting above the story, yet as the it progresses, he feel that we are just as embroiled by being inside the flying machine as we are on the ground, and each transfer onto the ground seems more traumatic. Throughout the story, the interviews and descriptions of the soldiers hit hard. They fan the fire of complete chaos and senselessness, and reflect it like mirrors. There eyes and words and stories and bodies are short, jarred, limbless, and damaged. The young seem old, the older seem crazy, and the Viet Cong just sit at the edge of the page, but never appear, making it seem like everyone is fighting no one. Ghosts and far off orders meant to fight larger, foggey causes.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kimmy when she says that using metaphors and similes help us relate to the writer's or the character's experience. It gives us a perspective on a subject we haven't been directly a part of through the use of comparison. For example, Herr writing about Vietnam war. I wasn't a part of the Vietname war, but with his descriptions, similes and metaphors, I can at least sense what was happening and how he and others felt.

I think a pattern though Herr's imagery suggests pain: "His face was all painted up for night walking now like a bad hallucination" and " Dexedrine snakes kept too long in a jar."

In response also to Kimmy's comment, she makes a point about the imagery that references animals. Its like the behavior of soldiers are inhumane. They're like animals. Its a nice twist to when Herr writes about conversations he has had with them, to make them seem more human.

AllieRoselle said...

In the first excerpt from "Dispatches," Michael Herr uses a lot of imagery to portray his views of the war in Vietnam. The imagery helps, in an story, to make the reader visually understand the scenes throughout the story. As others have said, Herr does use similes and metaphors relating to animals such as in the opening sentence, "Going out at night the medics gave you pills, Dexedrine breath like dead snakes kept too long in a jar," but he also uses similes relating to the outdoors and nature. One sentence says, "All I ever managed was one quick look in, and that was like looking at the floor of an ocean." One of the most descriptive metaphors I saw within the story was, "Some people were so delicate that one look was enough to wipe them away, but even bone-dumb grunts seemed to feel that something weird and extra was happening to them." Herr was describing that the exposure of the dead bodies made the others around him feel anxious.
The purpose to his images are to make the reader truely feel what he feels during this time of war. The references to the images are so deep and personal that one can actually feel the coldness that Herr feels during the story.

nicoLe said...

Herr opens up his essay in the very first sentence with a simile: "...Dexedrine breath like dead snakes kept too long in a jar." The tone of the piece is immediately set with a dreary sentiment which is meant to set up the following scenes. The idea of needing such pills to overcome bouts of depression is saddening in itself because one would normally expect such pills to have a pleasant, cheery smell or even none at all. Furthermore, the image of a man taking them by "the fistful" stands out because it clearly marks the dreadful times that is originally commented on throught the use of the first simile.
Another image that stands out is on page 496 where it is noted that "men on the crews would say that once you'd carried a dead person, he would always be there riding with you." This metaphor is significant because it is vivid; I can imagine the ghost of a dead man riding along the shoulders of men. It is powerful and moving.
Herr's use of similes and metaphors run through "Dispatches." They emphasize key scenes and allow the reader to become more absorbed in the passage. They impact readers which is a writer's main goal.

Liz Cross said...

In Michael Her's "Dispatches," he uses great imagery to get the scenes across to his readers. He also uses metaphors and similes. I think the biggest metaphor that can be found in the story are the helicopters. On page 497 he says, "...the hudreds of helicopters I'd flown in began to draw together until they'd formed a collective meta-chopper, and in my mind it was the sexiest thing going; saver-destroyer, provider-waster, right hand-left hand..." The passage goes on to describe everything that the helicopters represented to him. Ultimately, it was safety for him. When he felt that he couldn't stay in a place for any longer, he would simply hop on a helicopter and go to the next destination unlike any of the other soldiers actually stationed there. On page 500, he goes on to say "...Finally on the fourth day a helicopter came in to deliver meat and movies to the camp and I went out on it, so happy to get back to Saigon..." The helicopters are repeated throughout the story to represent the needs of him and the soldiers. Without helicopters, they wouldn't have food or entertainment, or in the case of Herr, choice.

Casey Q. said...

Because the experience is so hard for a reader to a comprehend Herr cannot describe what happened to him in concrete terms and an exact chronological representation. By describing what happened with metaphors like "choppers fell out of the sky like fat poisoned birds" Herr gets much closer to his perception of Vietnam and expressing the truth in a way people can better understand. The imagery Herr uses heightens the senses of the reader so that the reader is seeing through his lens, showing everything in Vietnam as chaotic and distorted. At times you get a sense of his being an outsider because of his relations to the military and at the same time you sense he is integrating into their lifestyle and the climate of fear and panic they are all immersed in.

Kaitlyn Linker said...

Throughout Michael Herr’s article “Dispatches” I noticed that he used an extensive amount of similes and metaphoric references. But it’s not simply the figurative language alone that captures the angle of the story that Herr is trying to convey; yet the absurdity and unrealistic approach he takes, creating a more realistic illustration for the reader. By taking odd, gruesome, references to develop an image for the reader he is trying to display how war really is and that it “is” as horrible as it sounds, or even more horrible then the average person imagines it. Was isn’t a bunch of people telling exaggerating tales in order to make them sound heroic, yet war is this force that bounds disgusting, mind-blowing, images to the participants minds, including the minds of the journalists who are the spectators. There was one particular section of the article on page 203 that painted an extremely scenic picture of war for me. Herr writes, “The total impersonality of group death, making them lie anywhere and any way it left them, hanging over barbed wire or thrown promiscuously on top of other dead, or up into the trees like terminable acrobats, Look what I can do.” By calling the people that were killed “terminable acrobats” I was given a more distinct and visual image of the way that people were actually being treated, as just a joke and entertaining thing (as acrobats are). It’s sickening.

Tyler.Gomo said...

Well, time to redeem myself after that meandering comment of mine lingered in class, for better or worse.

If there's any pattern that sticks out, it's that two of the most notable uses of imagery (the elephant and the helicopter) are massive objects. To me, I think this can easily be attributed to the larger-than-life aura of war, especially with the picture of multiple helicopters forming together to create a giant, flying death machine. This kind of mental picture creating is not meant to entertain, like most stories, and it's certainly not meant to just inform, like most news articles. The images are meant to horrify, and instill just how terrifying times were for a war correspondent in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Certainly, it's no image, but the most striking thing about this story came in the latter half, where soldiers informed Herr about the paths his life could take should he be mildly injured, severely injured, or straight-up killed. That collection of quotes genuinely left me stunned at how "efficient" aid had become at that point of the war. The split-second decision was replaced with pre-destination, but not of the Calvin kind.

Thereal2008 said...

Sorry for posting so late… In Michael Herr’s story “Dispatches,” the use of imagery is used for the soul purpose of making the reader feel as close to the war as he felt experiencing it firsthand. His imagery shows to the reader that to him (Herr) the story is very personal; therefore he wants you to almost see it from his eyes. The use of graphic words and not switching the words up like most news stories do all help the reader to understand and get the feeling of what exactly it was like to be there during this time. Other stories that we have read thus far paint a clear picture for you, almost as if one is watching a movie; but in this story, the author wants the reader to feel a particular way, and what greater way to do this than by using imager. He describes dead bodies over a barbed wired fence as people on tight ropes in a circus. Herr showed his readers the truth and revelation about war; people die most time innocent people, like reporters or civilians. Again sorry for posting so late.