The Man at the Well

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The Man at the Well
Some say it’s not what we do but what we don’t do that can truly define who we are. In the tenth chapter, “The Man at the Well”, from Tim O’Brien’s memoir, If I die in a Combat Zone, O’Brien manages to portray one of the most powerful messages throughout his entire journey. It’s about American ignorance, the inability to help those in need, the true meaning of humanity and whether we, as a population, are capable to break down barriers and walls that we, ourselves, have constructed.

“A blustery and stupid soldier, blond hair and big belly, picked up a carton of milk and from fifteen feet away hurled it, for no reason, aiming at the old man and striking him flush in the face. The carton burst. Milk sprayed into the old man’s cataracts. He hunched foreword, rocking precariously and searching for his balance. He dropped his bucket. His hands went to his eyes then dropped loosely to his thighs. His blind gaze was fixed straight ahead, at the stupid soldier’s feet” (Page 100).

O’Brien’s language it’s purposefully proposed and constructed to paint one of the most vivid images in the whole memoir. He creates a scene which the reader’s innovative mind engulfs and produces it into one of the most captivating and heart wrenching pictures easily shown like a movie in our own heads. His undeniable choice of descriptive words can’t help but have the effect of a film-like image flowing through the reader’s imagination. O’Brien uses this carefully disguised writing technique to ultimately grasp the hearts of his followers and use their sacrificing vulnerability to engrave a philosophical idea in their minds - such as humanity’s opinion of right and wrong.

“The Man at the Well” produces a foundation of shame and disbelief to think that a human being, an American soldier who is looked up to by children, Vietnamese and American, can fabricate such a hurtful scene. The audacity to even act out the horror and hate is appalling to any reader it makes he...
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