The Character of Molly in Last of the Annamese

I knew Molly. Throughout my years in Vietnam, I kept running into her in various forms, shapes, and sizes—American women in Vietnam risking their lives for the good of others. I never understood, still don’t understand, what drove them to make such sacrifices. Somehow, it seemed to me, we men were supposed to risk our lives for the good of the country. That’s what it means to be a man. But why should women be called upon?

Molly, like all my characters, came to me on her own and only slowly revealed herself to me. I grew to understand that she really does love Ike, even though she knows their time together is temporary and he has a wife and children to go home to after his tour in Vietnam is finished. She knows she’ll never see him again after he leaves. But she makes the most of him while she has him.

Men have used Molly, and she knows it. She lost her ability to bear children thanks to an abortion after an older man seduced her and abandoned her. She’s sensitive about her size and her weight and is subject to feelings of inferiority. Tuyet, a diminutive grande dame, intimidates her; she compensates by treating Tuyet as a weakling. But when Molly is confronted by people in need, especially children, her strength comes to the fore.

In some ways, I think I love Molly the most of my characters. On the surface, she’s unseemly—she loves chocolate, alcohol, and well-endowed men. And yet, in her quiet, self-effacing way, she is willing to give up everything to help those less fortunate. In the end, she is the most virtuous of them all.

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