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Chapter description...things are being described...with the words...no not all the words, but some of the words. Sure...definitely...some but not all of the words.

Trauma in "The Things They Carried"

The chapter illustrates the need to discuss and communalize trauma, especially when the experience has been shared. Cross' isolation after Lavender's death exacerbates his grief. By contrast Bowker and Kiowa have the opportunity to talk. Kiowa's repetition of the same information borders on the reliving described by Shay and van der Kolk and van der Hart. The talking though makes Kiowa feel better. Similarly Bowker does not want to re-confront Lavender's death, but after Kiowa obeys Bowker and goes quiet, Bowker immediately requests Kiowa keep talking -- masking his feelings with the statement, "One thing I hate, it's a silent Indian" (18). Bowker does not want to talk about Lavender's death but the only thing worse than talking about the experience is not talking about it.

"while Kiowa explained how Lavender died, Lieutenant Cross found himself trembling.
He tried not to cry. With his entrenching tool, which weighed 5 pounds, he began digging a hole in the earth.
He felt shame. He hated himself. He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war."

Identity and Gender in "On the Rainy River"

In the chapter “On the Rainy River,” O’Brien offers the readers a wide range in understanding the masculinity of men, both defining and contradicting male gender roles. The chapter starts off with Tim receiving his draft letter, feeling as though he is not well suited for the war because of his educational accomplishments. He starts working for a pig slaughterhouse but also begins to think about crossing the border into Canada to avoid the draft. He eventually comes face to face with the Canadian border, however loses all courage in himself to flee and finally decides to go to Vietnam. Throughout, we see the highs and lows of men. When Tim receives his draft letter, besides being brave and taking responsibility, he tries to dodge the draft for as long as possible. He has thoughts in fleeing and not taking the forefront, a common characteristic characterized in men, especially that of a soldier. However, readers also notice Tim’s acme, starting from working in a slaughtering house, giving a small glimpse for what it will be like to war, to him finally having the courage in risking his life to fight for his country. Overall, in this chapter, Tim highlights his masculinity to the greater theme of gender roles throughout the novel.

“I was too good for this war, too smart, too compassionate, too everything, it couldn't happen, I was above” (39).  

Tim’s internal conflict surrounding the draft notice grows due to society’s belief that men should have to participate in the war. He feels as though if he flees from the draft that he would be bringing shame upon his family and that everyone surrounding him would regard him as a coward. This relates to gender roles because a reason that Tim feels an obligation to the war is because he is a male. There is a certain standard that is set up for the males in relation to the war, and because Tim was never the type to fight in a war, he found the draft to be something he would be forced to take part in only due to obligation. This is exemplified when he discusses his fear of seeming cowardly, saying that they would regard him as a sissy. This use of language to characterize women as cowardly or in a derogatory manner aids in developing gender roles.

“The conversation slowly zeroing in on the young O’Brien kid, how the damned sissy had taken off for Canada” (O’Brien 43)

“On the Rainy River” illustrates the difficulty of understanding and accepting the self by way of Tim’s discovery of his flawed nature. Tim confesses that before he received his draft notice, he thought of himself as a type of hero, or at the very least, as someone who would act bravely in the face of evil. Shortly after receiving the notice, Tim flees to the Tip Top Lodge, near the Canadian border. While staying there, Tim has fantasies of escaping to Canada and knows that this is the morally right choice. However, when finally given the opportunity to swim to the Canadian border, Tim is paralyzed by shame and is unable to escape to Canada. Rather, he returns to America with a shattered sense of self and an understanding of his shortcomings. Though Tim’s realization of his identity is an important aspect of coming of age, it is devastating to reach this conclusion.

“That old image of myself as a hero, as a man of conscience and courage, all that was just a threadbare pipe dream” (55).

The chapter: On the Rainy River illustrates the theme of identity because of a story that Tim has never told anyone before. The fact that he never told anyone about his story about getting his draft letter and running away, shows he's afraid and upset. Tim feeling afraid and upset is part of his identity in this chapter. Tim does not believe in war, and think he's too good to fight in it. He doesn’t know if he should go to war or flee, and debates this idea at The Tip Top Lodge. His conscience and instincts tell him to run, but he worries that if he chooses to do that then he will lose respect from his family and community. However, when Elroy takes him fishing on his last day, Tim starts crying because he wants to swim to Canada, but decides he will go to war because he is embarrassed not to. Tim loses his identity because he does not what society wants/expects, and not what he wants. This chapter communicates that identity can be changed or influenced by other people, things, or society.

“For more than twenty years I’ve had to live with it, feeling the shame, trying to push it away, and so by this act of remembrance, by putting the facts down on paper, I’m hoping to relieve at least some of the pressure on my dreams. Still, it’s a hard story to tell” (O’Brien 37).

 

Loss of Innocence in "On the Rainy River"

As Tim makes his final decision to go to war, he loses all hope of carrying out his expectations for the future. His decision is a notable step towards his gradual loss of innocence. By deciding to fulfill his draft notice, he accepts that his ultimate fate might be death or mental devastation: “I would go to the war - I would kill and maybe die - because I was embarrassed not to” (57). Because he plans to fight in Vietnam, he rejects the former version of himself that was too good for the war and was scared to face reality. In essence, his decision reflects his acceptance of the fact that he has to grow up and live up to expectations. He can no longer hide behind the excuse of apprehension, and this forcefully brings about his loss of innocence. Overall, this chapter shows that loss of innocence often results from uncertainty about a situation, and it is difficult for people to willingly let go of their purity and oblivion to the world.

“On the Rainy River” further develops O’Brien’s theme of loss of innocence. In this chapter, he shares the story of receiving his draft notice and describes his internal conflict regarding his decision. When debating his next move, Tim takes a job at a pig processing plant, where he must remove blood clots from pig carcasses. He then seeks refuge on the U.S. Canada border, and further considers fleeing instead of going to Vietnam. At this point, Tim comes to the realization that no matter his next move, he can’t escape the destruction of his character, and that in many ways, he has already lost his innocence. He now sees that he spent his summer slaughtering innocent animals while deciding whether to go to war and slaughter innocent civilians, or flee to Canada and betray his country. Seeing that his innocence is already lost, Tim ultimately decides to go to war to avoid the shame of running away. The story O’Brien tells in this chapter outlines the inevitable loss of innocence experienced by veterans and also proves the tendency of war to corrupt one’s character in unexpected ways.

“Chunks of my own history flashed by. I saw a seventeen-year-old boy in a white cowboy hat and a Lone Ranger mask and a pair of bolstered six-shooters; I saw a twelve-year-old Little League shortstop pivoting to turn a double play; I saw a sixteen-year-old kid decked out for his first prom, looking spiffy in a white tux and a black bow tie, his hair cut short and flat, his shoes freshly polished. My whole life seemed to spill out into the river, swirling away from me, everything I had ever been or ever wanted to be. I couldn’t get my breath; I couldn’t stay afloat;  I couldn’t tell which way to swim. A hallucination, I suppose, but it was as real as anything I would ever feel” (55)
“I was talking about the blood clots and the water gun and how the smell had smoked into my skin and how I couldn’t wash it away…[and the] wild hogs squealing in my dreams, the sound of butchery, slaughter house sounds , and how I’d sometimes wake up with that greasy pig-stink in my throat” (O’Brien 51)

The Nature and Effects of War in "On the Rainy River"

“On the Rainy River” shows the effects of war concerning internal conflict within Tim. On one hand he doesn’t want to go to war because it goes against his beliefs but if he doesn’t go to war he risks embarrassment for himself and his family. He believes he is to good to fight in the war. This chapter uses the theme of embarrassment as a key motivating factor to join the war. This conflict causes him to hallucinate different scenes that show his frustration and inability to decide what to do.

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Even now, I'll admit, the story makes me squirm. For more than twenty years I've had to live with it, feeling the shame, trying to push it away

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Faith, Belief, and Superstition in "The Things They Carried"

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Love in "The Things They Carried"

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Fracturing of Themis in "On the Rainy River"

“On the Rainy River” portrays the fracturing of Tim’s themis through his moral and social conflicts surrounding the aspect of war. These conflicts are illustrated through his journey to Canada. At first Tim was staying true to his own morals: war is unjustified, unnecessary and should only happen if the cause is imperative and justifiable. However, when he is drafted to go to war, he questions his morals and themis. In the end, the embarrassment and humiliation of running away outweighed his moral truths. Therefore, his lack of courage fractures his view of what’s right and forces him to go to war.

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“My conscience told me to run, but some irrational and powerful force was resisting, like a weight pushing me toward the war. What it came down to, stupidly, was a sense of shame” (O’Brien 49).

 

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Fellowship and Comrades in "The Things They Carried"

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Death in "The Things They Carried"

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Courage in "On the Rainy River"

“On the Rainy River” demonstrates that one's courage can be put to question when faced with a decision that could compromise one’s morals. Tim could either go to war and go against his beliefs or go to Canada and commit social suicide. The shame that went along with being a deserter in the Vietnam War was too much for Tim and kept him from upholding what he knew to be morally right. His sense of courage was therefore compromised as he was unable to escape to Canada.

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“As we sat waiting, Curt Lemon began to tense up…[Curt Lemon] said that he’d had a couple of bad experiences with dentists...the dentist couldn’t find any problem but Lemon kept insisting so the man finally shrugged and shot in the novocain and yanked out a perfectly good tooth. There was some pain, no doubt, but  in the morning Curt Lemon was all smiles.” (O'Brien 57)

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The Soldier and the Civilian in "The Things They Carried"

“On the Rainy River” illustrates the internal struggles faced by drafted civilians and the betrayal of themis that often follows. Tim’s insistence that he should not go to war because he is above the evils of the military supports this theme because he is feeling disbelief and self-betrayal at the prospect of having to fight. Similarly, his ultimate failure to cross the Canadian border symbolizes his inability to stay loyal to his thémis.

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“I did try. It just wasn’t possible…I couldn’t risk the embarrassment…I couldn’t make myself be brave. It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that’s all it was” (57).
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Morality in "On the Rainy River"

The chapter On the Rainy River illustrates the theme of morality through  lasting internal conflict between societal acceptance and personal desires. Tim O’Brien, a young protagonist, views himself as the complete opposite of a traditional soldier; however, he is forced into choosing his fate as a soldier or fleeing for his life in shame. These juxtaposed set of ideals drives O’Brien to near insanity as he debates which future he fears more. As he argues with himself, he describes his predicament as a “moral split” in which “[he] couldn’t make up his mind. [He] feared the war, yes, but [he] also feared exile” (O’Brien 42). Although Tim wishes to save his own life and flee, he deems it as morally wrong to abandon both his family and his country. Doing so would be a display of cowardice, which shames him. This chapter demonstrates the theme of morality because Tim makes choices based on his idea of what is right and what is wrong.

"A moral freeze: I couldn't decide, I couldn't act, I couldn't comport myself with even a pretense of modest human dignity" (O'Brien 54)

     This chapter describes how fear can challenge one’s morality. In this scene, Tim is faced with a dilemma: succumb to his fear and accept the draft, or do what is moral and refuse to partake in the war. This conflict leads to him enter a state of paralysis. His fear has challenged his ability to do what he deems moral. Ultimately this chapter uses this to show that doing what is moral is not only challenged by fear, but requires great sacrifice and courage.

“It was a moral split. I couldn’t make up my mind. I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile” (42)

Key Authorial Choices in this chapter:

  • O’Brien decides to include his description of his job as a pig declotter (41).
  • The author decides to have Tim go to the north to a setting that is very serene and peaceful (45).
  • Elroy serves a significant purpose in Tim’s journey to make his final decision (46).
  • “A hallucination, I suppose, but i was as real as anything I would ever feel I saw my parents calling to me from the far shoreline” (55).
  • “During my time at the Tip Top Lodge I had the feeling that I’d slipped out of my own skin, hovering a few feet away while some poor yo-yo with my name and face tried to make his way toward a future he didn’t understand and didn’t want” (52).
  • O’Brien alludes to fictional heroes and stories, as Tim sees himself as “The Lone Ranger” (37).
  • “A moral freeze: I couldn’t decide, I couldn’t act, I couldn’t comport myself with even a pretense of modest human dignity” (54).
  • “I survived, but it’s not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to war” (58).
  • “It was a moral split. I couldn’t make up my mind. I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile. I was afraid of walking away from my own life, my friends and my family, my hole history, everything that mattered to me” (42).
  • “A million things all at once - I was too good for his war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything” (39).
  • “Certainly that was my conviction back in the summer of 1968. Tim O’Brien : a secret hero” (37).
  • ‘“I was too good for this war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything… I was no soldier” (39).
  • “I had the feeling that I’d slipped out of my own skin, hovering a few feet away while some poor yo-yo with my name and face tried to make his way toward a future he didn’t understand and didn’t want” (52).
  • “That old image of myself as a hero, as a man of conscience and courage, all that was just a threadbare pipe dream”(55).
  • “My whole life seemed to spill out into the river, swirling away from me, everything I had ever been or ever wanted to be”(55).
  • O'Brien creates a contrast between ideals and reality by having Tim express a desire to "behave like the heroes of [his] youth, bravely and forthrightly, without thought of personal loss or discredit" (37).
  • Tim's youth and idealism is highlighted by lines such as "I was twenty-one years old. Young, yes, and politically experienced, but even so the American war in Vietnam seemed to me so wrong" (38).
  • Tim distances himself from other potential soldiers, referring to some of them as "back-to-the-stone-age hawk[s]" (41).
  • Tim wants to remove himself from the war and the draft initially because he sees himself on some sort of moral high ground by opposing the war.
  • While Tim casts blame on the judgmental attitudes of the people in his hometown, but ironically ends up giving in to the very same perceived prejudices he frowned upon by being embarrassed and afraid.

 

5 thoughts on ““On the Rainy River””

  1. One theme that is prevalent in “On the Rainy River” is the loss of innocence, featured mainly in the case of Tim’s impending draft. O’Brien made several choices in this chapter in order to formulate this theme effectively, helping the reader to understand the destruction of Tim’s purity. The first authorial choice used was making the northern location that Tim runs to very peaceful and serene. This offers a stark contrast from where his future leads him and represents the peaceful years of Tim’s former life. When Tim turns his back on Canada, it symbolizes the loss of Tim’s childhood serenity and coming of the harsh realities of war. The second authorial choice used by O’Brien is the inclusion of Tim’s childhood dreams about heroes. This choice allows readers to see the full extent of Tim’s youthful feelings towards violence and sets up the later loss that is experienced in the chapter. The last choice O’Brien used in this chapter in order to establish the loss of innocence theme is Tim’s outlook on others who support the war at home. Tim looks upon others in the community who support the war with a sense of contempt, while all the while attesting to the fact that he is different from the standard soldier. Tim mentioning his more academic background and lack of boy scouts are all related to this, as well as the fact that
    Tim attempts to distance himself with others who would support his directive to war. This reaction shows the growing tension Tim is having within himself, as well as the gradual decline in pure intentions. Tim becomes willing to break the law, and also works actively to think of ways to escape the draft.

  2. -Tim’s youth and idealism is highlighted by lines such as “I was twenty-one years old. Young, yes, and politically experienced, but even so the American war in Vietnam seemed to me so wrong” (38).
    -“That old image of myself as a hero, as a man of conscience and courage, all that was just a threadbare pipe dream”(55).
    -“My whole life seemed to spill out into the river, swirling away from me, everything I had ever been or ever wanted to be”(55).
    The chapter illuminates O’Brien’s theme of the loss of innocence through Tim coming to understand that not only was he flawed, but the world itself was flawed as well. Furthermore, he reveals the effects of the loss of innocence through Tim’s realization that he would not have the future he dreamed of.

  3. In the chapter “On the Rainy River” Tim’s viewpoint of courage differs from the beginning to the end. At the start, O’Brien has Tim believe that cowardice is associated with running away from the war, and on the other side, going to Vietnam to fight would be deemed courageous. Tim could be seen as a coward when he retreated to the Tip Top Lodge after being drafted to the war. This is where he contemplated with himself between going to the war or not: “I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile. I was afraid of walking away from my own life, my friends and my family, my whole history, everything that mattered to me” (42). Tim does not have the courage to go to Vietnam, but he fears that running away will only make his problem worse. At the end of the chapter, Tim is face to face with the opportunity to go to Canada. He comes to the decision of not running away by saying, “I survived, but it’s not a happy ending, I was a coward. I went to war” (58). Tim completely contradicts his first statement of what having courage meant. At the end he viewed himself as being a coward because he wasn’t able to run away. In conclusion, Tim didn’t have the courage to do what he wished to do, and fed into what other people would think of him.

  4. Halley Saucier and Anjana Ramesh “On the Rainy River”
    1. “A hallucination, I suppose, but it was as real as anything I would ever feel I saw my parents calling to me from the far shoreline” (55).
    This hallucination scene is an authorial choice made by O’Brien, which contributes to the theme of morality. When Tim has this hallucination, he immediately questions whether he should pursue freedom or go back to his family. He felt it was morally wrong to leave his family and country behind, even though going to war would be betraying his moral beliefs. Ultimately, this hallucination scene caused Tim’s realization that he should return home to his family based on his idea of what is right and what is wrong.
    2. ‘“I was too good for this war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything… I was no soldier” (39).
    Tim’s description of himself is a major contributing factor to the theme of the soldier and the civilian.
    He lays out these characteristics to show that he is not fit to be a soldier or to be apart of the war. It highlights how the war is a negative interference to his own life and his life plans. Additionally, he describes himself as being the wrong type of person for the war and the right type of person for civilian life at home. Particularly, his description of himself shows how he is meant to be a civilian working at home and not a soldier fighting at war.
    3. “That old image of myself as a hero, as a man of conscience and courage, all that was just a threadbare pipe dream”(55).
    The idea that his courageousness and hero like old image of himself was only now just a dream contributes to the theme of courage. Tim had the courage to run from the war, because the war went against his moral beliefs. However, the shame and embarrassment that would come along with running from the war was too much for him, so he returned home. Therefore, his courage was compromised due to his embarrassment and fear of social suicide. In the end, including this quote, showed his loss of courage in a time where he had to make decisions based on his own morals.

  5. “It was a moral split. I couldn’t make up my mind. I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile. I was afraid of walking away from my own life, my friends and my family, my whole history, everything that mattered to me” (42). What O’Brien calls a “moral split” is an authorial line, representative of the theme of morality. He is forced to choose between running away to Canada, or fighting a war that he does not want to be apart of. O’Brien recognizes that the consequences of running away are almost equivalent if not greater than the consequences from going to war. He explains how his friends and family would lose their respect for O’Brien, and how he would look like a laughingstock to his conservative town.
    “That old image of myself as a hero, as a man of conscience and courage, all that was just a threadbare pipe dream”(55). The theme of morality along with the loss of innocence is apparent in this authorial quote. O’Brien comes to the realization that looking at himself as a hero isn’t something he is close to achieving. He does not want to fight in this war, but at the same time, he does not want to flee to Canada while his family loses their faith in him.
    “A million things all at once – I was too good for his war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything” (39). Once again dealing with morality, O’Brien looks at himself as someone who is on the right side of the war, or the high ground. He uses this as an excuse when explaining his reasoning for trying to avoid the war. He cannot accept the fact that he has been drafted into the war, and he feels that he must do anything he can to try to get out of it, whether it means to flee to Canada or something else.

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