“The Things They Carried”, by Tim O’Brien includes an assortment of fictional war stories, providing a moral insight into the Vietnam War for those that were privileged enough to escape its grasp or miss it altogether. What is particularly fascinating about O’Brien’s novel is his incorporation of context regarding the different gender roles existent within American society during this turbulent period of history. These stereotypes are displayed in explicit detail within the chapter entitled, ‘On The Rainy River’ of the novel, in which O’Brien deliberates the exact effect that these gender conceptions had on the young men that were told that they had to go to war.
America was in Vietnam for fear of the Domino Theory and communist expansion throughout South-East Asia, however the individual men that were made to serve, fought for very different reasons indeed. Whether or not the young men were enthusiastic or opposed to the concept of serving in the Vietnam campaign, within, ‘On the Rainy River’ of “The Things They Carried”, O’Brien suggests, through his own experiences, that the deciding factor in the decision to fight was in fact measured by the gender perception of males within the confines of society. This can be observed in reference to his moral conflictions when first presented with the draft notification in the summer of 68, stating,
“Certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons. The only certainty that summer was moral confusion.”
O’Brien applies the word, ‘certain’ repeatedly within this example, illustrating to us, the reader, the degree of confusion he faced with the arrival of the draft card. This confusion evolved for the reason that, in O’Brien’s case, there laid uncertainty in his opinion of whether the war in Vietnam was being fought for legitimate reasons. Although he was neither a conscientious objector nor pacifist by law, in this, O’Brien suggests that he was unable to identify with the Vietnam War in any way or form. To him, the war in simplest terms seemed wrong. Despite this, he, along with the young men around him, were prepared to place their lives in the hands of the American Government to do with them as they wished. In order for us to understand exactly how a level headed man of O’Brien’s status could offer what was essentially a sacrifice of sorts, one must first examine the position a man was expected to hold within American society during the 1960s.
As a rule, stereotypes generally dictate how, by whom and when it is socially acceptable to display an emotion. Reacting in a stereotypical manner may result in social approval, while reacting in a manner that subverts a stereotype could result in disapproval within the parameters of what society deems acceptable. Of course, for Tim O’Brien, when first presented with the draft notice in June of 1968, aside from thoughts of death and the reasons for America’s involvement in the war, his mind quickly focused on the implications involved with possibly running away from his commitments. Escaping, so to speak. This can be observed within O’Brien’s thought process,
“Run, I’d think. Then I’d think, Impossible. Then a second later I’d think, Run”.
O’Brien has intentionally applied short, succinct sentence structure in order to not only emphasize the sheer significance of having such thoughts within the scope of the stereotypical society that he lives, but also to depict the actual process in which such thoughts occurred to him. The subsequent effect of this sentence structure provides an insight for the reader, allowing him/ her to empathize with O’Brien and understand the conflictions involved in his decision-making after receiving the draft notification. Additionally, the sentence is entrapped by the word ‘run’, which in turn illustrates the captivity of his thoughts. The thoughts between...