Am the Grass is a short story written by Daly Walker, who has also written other short stories for The Sewanee Review and The Sycamore Review. Born in Winchester, Indiana in 1924, Daly Walker is a surgeon by trade and started to write after he was forty. Daly also served in the Vietnam War from 1967-1968, it serves as an inspiration for I Am the Grass. The story details a mans struggle of life after the war in Vietnam, and returning to Vietnam. This includes painful psychological trauma, the feeling of guilt for his actions, and finally his attempt to redeem himself in his own eyes.
At the start of the story we read about assorted atrocities committed during the Vietnam War by a nameless man, who is the main character. They include raping a thirteen-year old girl, decapitating a man with a machete, and throwing defenseless prisoners off of a helicopter. Along with the atrocities, the reader sees a battered past and something that haunts the main character . The story also goes on to explain how after the war, the main character goes on to medical school where he becomes a successful plastic surgeon.
The main character also describes the fear that comes back to him when anti-war protestors blow up a classroom while he’s asleep. It takes him back to the attacks done on his base while he was in Vietnam, he goes on to explain that even though the he has left the war, “the war has followed him home” (316). The main character shows how he tries to redeem himself for the bad he has done. This includes going to impoverished countries to repair deformities on people who can’t afford plastic surgery. He explains “how it makes me feel like a decent man, a healer” (317).
This shows how it feels good for him to heal people as opposed to feeling good killing them when he was younger. After the minor back-story and introduction to his past and inner-demons, the main character is on a plane headed to Vietnam. Ironically, this time to help the people he once did horrible things to. He is taken around the countryside, where he recognizes many of the nicknames of the roads soldiers gave. Then he is introduced to another surgeon, one who he would have originally called an enemy, to take him to those in need of the surgery. In nother twist of irony, the Vietnamese “surgeon” is missing his thumbs. This prevents him from performing surgery unlike the main character.
They both talk about fighting each other in the war and then go forth to perform the surgeries on the people who needed them. As the story continues, the narrator, has been successful in 18 surgeries and feels good. Until he has to “make a difficult decision”(320) when the thumbless Vietnamese surgeon asks him to perform a “difficult surgery”(321) on him. A surgery where the big toe of the foot is transplanted to where the thumb once was.
Despite the risk and lack of any more advanced medical tools, the narrator decides to go forward with it. This shows that the narrator is willing to do an extremely difficult surgery without the proper tools, so that perhaps he may find some peace in himself. Yet the dreams of the man he decapitated still haunt him, even on the eve of the big surgery. While he prepares himself, the narrator explains the feeling as “a sense of power that has been in no other place but surgery, except when my finger was on the trigger of an M60” (324).
He starts and is meticulous in using the primitive medical instruments provided to him. He feels as if he has done a good job and even forms a steady friendship with the Vietnamese surgeon. However, the day he has to leave, it goes south. The main character goes to unwrap the bandages and finds that the transplant has failed, as the implanted big toe has rotted. Furious at himself, he removes it before he leaves. In an attempt to make himself feel better, it is shown how the main character hopes to see the thumbless surgeon at the airport. Perhaps saying bye to him and thanking him for his efforts.
However there is no one there, on the flight home though, he realizes that the risk involved with Vietnam made him feel like a part of the country. He comes to see that he embraces the risk and everything that comes with it. I Am the Grass is presented as a story that is simple to understand, but also has an emotional effect. Walker gives us a character with a detailed past, a very good storyline, and the setting and theme of redemption which is present throughout the whole story. The theme of redemption is supported throughout the story. The main character tries to redeem himself in his own yes by doing surgeries for free in impoverished nations.
Also, when he takes on the risky task of the toe transplant. It leaves the reader wondering, what if it would have worked? Would he have calmed his conscience of reminding him about the past atrocities he committed? The story, which begins by describing very graphic atrocities, turns into a story of more peace than war. One where the narrator has lost himself in the scourge of war, but is trying to find himself by using his talents for good. Trying to find inner-peace from his personal demons. It comes together near the end of the story.
When he finds out the transplant didn’t work and he wants to leave immediately. But contrary to his expected reaction, the Vietnamese surgeon calmly tells him to remove it, which the main character does. In a way he faced his own inner demons despite the disappointment. Walker’s decision to make the setting a run down dirty hospital isn’t one that a lot of people can relate to. However, the message of redemption is one that a lot of people can. The conflict he delivers is one that is present in others, just not in the form of war crimes and surgeries. That’s something that a lot can relate to.
In this story, Walker has shown a veteran who is haunted by his past and tries to redeem himself. It delivers a powerful message on how the road to the inner-peace of a person is faced with many challenges and setbacks. Ironically, amidst the moment of disappointment, the character realizes that he has come to accept the risks he took in life, along with the consequences. There he finds at that moment of redemption that he had long been looking for.