Courage and Cowardice in The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

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Courage and Cowardice in The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Through The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien moves beyond the horror of fighting in the Vietnam War to examine with sensitivity and insight the nature of courage and fear. Included, is a collection of interrelated stories. A few of the stories are brutal, while others are flawed, blurring the distinction between fact and fiction. All the stories, however, deal with one platoon. Some are about the wartime experiences of soldiers, and others are about a 43-year-old writer reminiscing about his platoon’s experiences. In the beginning chapter, O’Brien rambles about the items the soldiers carry into battle, ranging from can openers, pocketknives, and mosquito repellent o
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Some of the soldiers were such cowards that they injured themselves just to be taken away in a helicopter and extracted from the war scene. The soldiers “spoke bitterly about guys who had found release by shooting off their own toes or fingers. Pussies, they’d say. Candy-asses” (22). However, deep down inside, the soldiers who did all the mocking “imagined the quick, sweet pain, then the evacuation to Japan, then a hospital with warm beds and cute geisha nurses” (22). The soldiers even dreamt at night about freedom birds. The men were flying on a “real bird, a big sleek silver bird with feathers and talons and high screeching… The weights fell off; there was nothing to bear” (22). The soldiers did not want to be at war, they imagined to themselves “It’s (the war) over, I’m gone!—they were naked, they were light and free” (22). Furthermore, O’Brien himself admits he went to war not out of courage, but out of embarrassment and cowardice. In the chapter “On The Rainy River,” O’Brien received a draft letter for the Vietnam War. He was in shock, “I was too good for this war. Too smart, too compassionate, to everything. It couldn’t happen. I was above it. A mistake, maybe—a foul up in the paperwork. I was no soldier… I remember the rage in my stomach. Later it burned down to a smoldering self-pity, then to numbness” (41-42). Obviously, O’Brien did not want to go to war. However, he was
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