The Things They Carried

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade October 2001

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In The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien references the battle between courage and cowardice. He spends much of the narrative carefully dissecting the nature of these two qualities in relation to their effects on the soldiers. Through the description of the narrator's pre-war sentiment, the emotional baggage carried by the soldiers, and the reaction of Norman Bowker to Kiowa's death, the author attempts to define courage and cowardice.

The concept of courage is first referenced in "On the Rainy River."� In June of 1968, a month after his graduation from Macalester College, the narrator is drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. An internal battle ensues. Up to this point, he held the conviction that, in a moral crisis, people ""¦tap into a secret reservoir of courage that accumulated over the years."� (O'Brien, 43) This theory is comfortable, but it is useless to the narrator at this time. The draft paralyzes him; his mind can not seem to function properly.

He begins to consider his options "Run I'd think. Then I'd think, impossible. Then a second later I'd think Run."� (O'Brien 48) He fears the war, but he fears shame also. He is obsessed with how people might react to his escape and he even carries on arguments with those fictional people who consider him a coward. His fears begin to consume him until one morning he chooses to run. He almost goes to Canada, but what stops him, ironically, is fear. "All those eyes on me "" the town, the whole universe "" and I couldn't risk the embarrassment. I couldn't endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule. I would got to war "" I would kill and maybe die "" because I was embarrassed not to."� (O'Brien 61) It is not courage that causes...

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