On the Rainy River: Our Choice … or Theirs?

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Our Choice … or Theirs?
In Tim O’Brien’s “On the Rainy River”, Tim is faced with the most difficult decision of his life. The Vietnam War is unfolding overseas and Tim is drafted into the military. As Tim has the option of staying and fighting a war he doesn’t believe in or facing the embarrassment of fleeing to Canada, O’Brien illustrates how other’s opinions sway our decisions in life more than we think they do. Tim battles himself over what should be an easy choice. Will he stay or go? His hometown is “a conservative little spot on the prairie” (1005). There, it is all about tradition and duty. If he chooses to go, he can already imagine his fellow townsfolk gathering around to talk, shamefully, about how “that damned sissy [has] taken off for Canada” (1005).

Tim talks about his hatred for those who mindlessly comply to it all. Not understanding the war or the reasons and history behind it, they just smile and blindly swallow it down. There was no grey area for them, just “their love-it-or-leave-it platitudes” (1005). Although he is the one who can make the decision to flee or flight, he holds them all personally responsible. He holds them responsible for making his decision so hard. Already fearing the law, Tim now fears condemnation, mockery and exile. With everything going well for him, Tim can’t understand why he is the one being drafted. Frustrated by the fact that the military could have picked better suited soldiers, Tim thinks that “If they [need] fresh bodies, why not draft some back-to-the-stone-age hawk?” (1003). In other words, why not pick someone who likes to be outdoors and who might enjoy it as opposed to himself, who does not even like to go camping? Why not someone who is patriotic and does not have to worry about other’s judgmental opinions? He chooses to focus on this inconsequential factor rather than the inevitable choice he will have to make. It does not matter why he has been chosen, he cannot change it regardless. O’Brien...
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