In the novel “In Country” by Bobbie Ann Mason, we find the story of a young girl who struggles in life to find out about her father and the history of the Vietnam War. Throughout the book, the reader finds out that this girl, Sam Hughes, is not your every day teenager. She is faced with the responsibility of dealing with her unmotivated uncle and a boyfriend she really doesn’t care for anymore. She’s confronted with the fact that she really knows nothing about her father and the War he took part in. All of the people she knows who were involved in Vietnam have been touched somehow by the war. What are some of the things she learns from these people? What does she find out about herself and about the father she has never even met? Sam’s search for information about her father and his War concludes instead with the discovery of herself. A step towards seeking out the truth about a man who has been a phantom to her throughout her life becomes a step towards helping her find the truth about herself.
In the beginning of the novel, Sam sees her father as something that can only be contained in a picture. She tucks a picture of him into a mirror frame in her room and tries to imagine what he could be like. However, the picture doesn’t give her any answers - “The soldier boy in the picture never changed. In a way that made him dependable. But he seemed so innocent” (p 66). She struggles to imagine what it would be like trying to tell her dad of all the things he had missed out on. Like a child talking to its stuffed animals, she talks to the picture as if it were alive. “ ‘You missed Watergate,’ Sam said to the picture.” (p. 67). She wants to make her father a more personal figure in her life instead of just a photo she has seen hundreds of times before.
Television gives Sam another look at some situations that her dad must have faced in Vietnam. It has the power to bring scenes of the war into her living room. Sam remembers when her family bought its first color television set. Because her mom became upset when Emmett told his war stories, TV was one of the things that fed Sam’s imagination. She had always relied on the pictures in her mind to help her see what Vietnam was like, but when they got a TV, Vietnam became a real place to her for the very first time (p 51). She and Emmett watch M*A*S*H episodes almost non-stop, and Sam makes an association between the made-up drama and the real life battles. However, she realizes that these shows, while appealing, are just fantasy. Although the TV death of Colonel Henry Blake seems more real to her than the death of her own father (p. 25), the fact that she begins to explore the historical events of Vietnam show that the television texts have failed to satisfy her inner need. Even though she’s far from discovering the truth, she’s one step closer to seeing who her father really was. However, she needs a more authentic and personalized model.