This guide complements the study of the novel Hey Joe by Michael Hyde. The guide offers a selection of activities to help students form an understanding of the issues and themes of the novel. It is divided into eight sections and concludes with a list of essay topics.
Hey Joe, written by Michael Hyde, is the story of Jimi Thorn, a young man who has been brought up almost solely by his mother, Molly. His father Joe Thorn played a prominent role in the anti-Vietnam War protests, but seems to have felt a little lost ever since, and has only ever drifted into Jimi’s life spasmodically.
Jimi reaches a point in his life where nothing seems to make sense, and he decides that he has to finally get to know his father properly. Unfortunately, Jimi discovers that Joe too has experienced some kind of crisis and has taken off to Vietnam to try to sort himself out. So Jimi follows in his father’s footsteps, but frustratingly always finds himself a step behind. He walks the same roads, talks to the same people, and even sleeps in the same rooms as his father, but can’t quite seem to catch up. Along the way Jimi begins to learn a whole lot more about Joe and the war, courtesy of a collection of Joe’s writing passed onto him by his mother before he left. He also seems to discover more about himself. He learns about mateship, about loyalty, both to a cause and to a friend, and even a little about love when he meets Thao.
In Hey Joe, Michael Hyde successful recalls the tumultuous times of Vietnam War period; and also provides an insight into post-war Vietnam, a country still trying to rebuild after decades of war.
Trace a map of Vietnam, and as you read the novel, map Jimi’s movements. For each stop, briefly record Jimi’s actions. Use the following list as a guide:
- Where did he stay?
- For how many days?
- Who did he meet?
- What did he find out about Joe?
- What is his next move? Why?
Work out exactly what you want to write before you write it on the map.
You can either trace a large map of Vietnam and include all of your on the map, or a smaller map and draw arrows to the writing around the outside of the map.
The memory of July Fourth, 1968, will probably never leave me. The violence at the demonstration – I’ve experienced nothing like it before. The night still spits and crackles in my brain. Some incidents I can see and hear clearly, but who did what and in what order, I haven’t a clue. It was a riot. (p. 11)
Look back at Melbourne newspapers around the 4th of July 1968 and see if you can find 5-8 newspaper articles about this demonstration (or about the wider issue of the war). Look for editorials, opinion articles and letters to the editor as well as news articles. Complete the following for each article:
- Record the details: headline, writer, publication and date.
- Write a short synopsis; noting the position of the article, that is, pro-war or anti-war. This may be implied (as in a news article), or directly stated (editorials, opinions and letters).
Then write a summary of your findings. (100-150 word)
Repeat this task for the 2003 Iraqi War see if you can draw any comparisons between the two.
While the Vietnam War features heavily throughout the novel, it is also a story about personal struggle and relationships and explores the key themes of family, mateship, and romance.
- Jimi’s quest to find Joe, his father.
- Molly’s boundless love and support for her son.
- Joe’s need to reconcile his relationship with Brian Hamilton.
- Jimi and Thao.
a) Jimi and Joe
A couple of weeks was all it had taken for me to break up with my girlfriend, Sally, leave work, organize uni, money, visa, plane ticket and say my farewells. And now that I am ten thousand metres above sea level and on my way to Vietnam everything seems more real and terrifying at the same time.
And for what?
It sounds so trite, melodramatic: I am going to find Joe Thorn, my father – a man who has rarely been a part of my life, who has no idea that I was looking for him and who may not want to be found. (p. 17)
- Recall and write about three important experiences you have shared with your own father – or a father figure. (200-300 words)
- Explain why you think Jimi feels such an urgent need to find Joe. (100-200 words)
- Does Joe have valid excuses for his neglect of Jimi over the years? (100-200 words)
The relationship between father and son is one that is often explored in literature and film. Find three other stories that explore tension between father and son, write about these: explain the conflict and the resolution if there is one.
b) Jimi and Molly
Document three occasions where Molly aids Jimi’s search for his father, use quotes to help illustrate your points. (40-50 words each)
c) Joe and Brian
I used to think I was indestructible. I figure that most of us at nineteen or twenty think that. And I thought that I’d feel pretty shit when I killed my first. But I don’t. Well, maybe a bit, but you can’t afford to. We’ve got a job to do.
I suppose you are the last person I should be telling this to. (p. 105)
We hear about the protests from time to time but they don’t bother us that much. Although some of the guys reckon they’re going to come round and punch the students’ fucking heads in when they get back. I haven’t told the, that I know one of those leftie pinko pricks.(p. 106)
So you see, Brian – there were other paths to take. Not easy ones but ones where you wouldn’t have had to go to war at the command of the supercop of the world…
No mate. You shouldn’t have gone. We would’ve looked after you. (p. 107)
I crept out onto the deck and sat watching the moon play hide-and-seek with the night clouds. I wished I had a joint so I could chill out and dream of my father and Brian Hamilton surfing the waves, sitting on cliff tops talking about life, being mates, crapping on about footy, music, women…
But all I could see was a dark time when two friends grew apart and finally no longer saw each other. (p. 107-08)
Again the theme of two friends falling out and joining opposite sides, or becoming enemies, is a popular one. Think of Macbeth and Banquo, or any western or mafia film, and stories of the American Civil War or even the Holocaust in Germany often feature former friends on opposing sides. Like Macbeth, Joe can’t escape ‘the ghost of Brian Hamilton’, but unlike Macbeth there is no clear villain, there is just circumstance.
If you had the chance to write to Joe about his relationship with Brian, the friendship, the different paths, the letters, and the search – what would you say? Did Joe act honourably? Was Brian guilty of a lack of conviction, or was he following his heart, doing his duty for his country? Write to Joe about this. (200-300 words)
d) Jimi and Thao
Six in the morning and we drove off, my cheek warmed by Thao’s kiss and a rosebud she dropped in my lap.
“Be safe and come back to me,” she had whispered. (p. 196)
There were many paths I could follow. And many combinations. Perhaps Joe had found his home. But here wasn’t for me. I had found my father. I’d gone further than I thought I could. And now I wanted to go home.’ (p. 212)
In Chapter 1 – ‘Here He Comes’ Jimi breaks up with Sally because he feels compelled to go on a search for his father. In the final chapter, ‘Hey Joe’ Jimi meets his dad and is now free to find his own path; a path that could involve Thao, a young Vietnamese woman from the guesthouse in Hanoi, 34 Luong The Vinh Street.
Write the next chapter of Jimi’s life. (Remember he only has a day or two left on his visa.)
Wherever you went, people worried, debated, discussed and yelled. (p. 140)
Hey Joe documents a time when there was a lot of discussion in Australia about politics and national identity. The novel raises a number of very interesting issues, many of which are still pertinent in contemporary Australia.
Here is a list of debating topics lifted from some of the actions and discussion in Hey Joe, but which have implications beyond the Vietnam conflict. You will need to form teams of three and choose a topic for debate (your teacher may prefer to devise teams and assign topics). Your teacher will also supply you with material outlining the principles of good debating. Once you’ve been assigned your topic look both to the novel and beyond it to find material to help build your arguments.
- Should Australia enter a war simply to protect its relationship with a powerful ally?
- Is conscription a fair and just way to recruit service men and women in times of war?
- ‘If your government [is] committing an atrocity, [is] it right to support those they wish to oppress?’ (p. 140)
- Is it right to use violence to combat a perceived injustice?
Far below me, Melbourne slipped away – the city, factories, schools, footy ovals, the bay, suburbs, friends and family. All disappearing into the ether as I sit here in limbo. (p. 17)
In Hey Joe the main character Jimi embarks on a physical journey. He is trying to track down his father who has also embarked on journey. Joe, an anti-war protestor, is trying to come to terms with the death of his friend Brian Hamilton, who was killed in action in Vietnam. The journeys in the novel are not just physical, but have a strong spiritual element to them as well. The ideas of journey and growth have been connected for thousands of years, for example, pilgrimages in the Bible and Homer’s epic poem Ulysses.
Recall a travel experience from your own life that also involved personal growth. It doesn’t have to be something grand like an overseas trip; it could be something as simple as a bike ride to the next suburb, or a cemetery walk at night, or the first time you walked away from your parents on the beach and went exploring.
Before you begin you need to think about your structure. You could wrote about the journey from start to finish and gradually reveal what you learnt, or you could try something more complex and start in the middle and flash back and forward, or at the end and work backwards. The important thing is that you plan your piece and think about why you want to structure it a particular way.
Hyde uses Joe’s NOTES FOR A NOVEL to tell Jimi (and the reader) about Joe’s life, the sixties, and the Vietnam War. The writing is passionate and vivid, and filled with dramatic images. It helps explain why Joe hasn’t been a stable presence in Jimi’s life and why he travels to Vietnam again. It also provides clues as to where Joe might be. There are twelve excerpts from Joe’s writing in the novel, as well as two letters from Brian Hamilton.
- JULY THE FOURTH, 1968 (p. 11)
- THE MILKO’S HORSE (p. 42)
- HOW DID WE GET HERE? (p. 55)
- THE PEOPLE’S ARMY (p. 79)
- Letter from Vung Tao (p. 100)
- Letter from Nui Dhat (p. 104)
- YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE GONE (p. 106)
- THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN (p. 108)
- MAY EIGHTH MORATORIUM (p. 110)
- VICTORY TO THE NLF (p. 139)
- PURPLE TRAMS ON GLENHUNTLY ROAD (p. 162)
- OLD SOLDIERS NEVER DIE (p. 181)
- IT TAKES ALL KINDS (p. 189)
- THE BAKERY (p. 199)
Choose one of the excerpts (or letters) and make a collage that visually represents the writing. You could work in pairs for this task and your teacher may wish to assign excerpts so that they are all covered.
Choose 4-5 dramatic or momentous events from your own life and write about each using a style similar to that used by Joe in the novel. He uses a first person narrative and writes in past tense. The writing is similar to journal writing, in that he uses a mix of reportage and reflection. Remember, when you write the first draft just try to let the words run, and resist any urge you may have to shape or edit them; that can come later.
My mother was crazy about Jimi Hendrix when I was born… Of course, that’s where my name comes from . . . (p. 77)
Jimi Hendrix is not only responsible for the name of the main character, but the novel itself is named after one of his songs, ‘Hey Joe’, as are all of the chapters. Furthermore, Hendrix’s music helps set the tone of the novel.
Visit one of the sites below for the lyrics of ‘Hey Joe’
Why is the novel called Hey Joe? Carefully read the lyrics of the song and suggest reasons why Hyde has named his character after the character in the song, and also why he has named his novel after song. (100-200 words)
We learn some important things about the war from the ‘Notes for a Novel’ written by Joe Thorn and the ‘Author’s Note’, but there is lots more to uncover. Here are some topics to explore, again your teacher will help devise groups and assign topics.
- French rule of Vietnam
- Ho Chi Minh
- Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War
- Films about the Vietnam War
- The anti-war movement both in Australia and in the US
- Music inspired by the anti-war movement
- Conscription in Australia
- Post-war Vietnam
- In your presentation try to link some of your findings back to the novel.
- Remember to include some visual material in your presentation.
- It will also be useful to have an interactive element in you presentation, such as a quiz or an activity related to your topic.
- Your presentation should be between 5-10 minutes long.
Evidence of research and planning L __ __ __ __ __ H
Structure L __ __ __ __ __ H
Content (including links to Hey Joe) L __ __ __ __ __ H
Technical skills L __ __ __ __ __ H
Visuals and props L __ __ __ __ __ H
Interaction with audience L __ __ __ __ __ H
Group cohesion L __ __ __ __ __ H
- Despite his problems, Joe must accept full responsibility for the neglect of his son, Jimi. Do you agree?
- Jimi’s search for his father also becomes a search for his own identity. Discuss.
- For many of the characters in the novel, the Vietnam War isn’t completely over. Discuss.
- ‘I will miss you like crazy. I hope you don’t hate me because I have no hatred for you. I only have sadness . . . And love.’
- Brian Hamilton’s death is critical to the sense of disaffection in the novel. Discuss.
- Despite the sadness and the hurt documented in the novel, the ending is full of hope and possibility. Do you agree?