The Things They Carried: Courage

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“It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards” (pg 22). This quote perfectly embodies the view Tim O’Brien has on courage, as he eloquently demonstrates in his book The Things They Carried. Although all the characters of this novel display O’Brien’s point of view, the three shining examples of this are Norman Bowker, Jimmy Cross, and Tim O’Brien himself. Tim O’Brien is fairly conscious of the difference between cowardice and bravery. To him, courage is not fulfilling what is socially accepted, but continuing to uphold one’s own morals even against adversity. His feelings are revealed in the chapter “On the Rainy River,” where he shamefully describes his “fast and mindless” flight to Canada to escape the draft (47). Although he feels that the reasons, or lack thereof, behind the Vietnam War were wrong, he finally sucumbs to his culture’s current idea of bravery, which was becoming a soldier in the war. Discussing his reasoning behind joining the war, he writes “It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that’s all it was” (59). Tim knows that being willing to die in order to avoid embarrassment from his family and peers is not being brave. Being brave, to him, is standing up for what he believes in, but as he stands at the bow of the boat, “staring at the old man, then at my hands, then at Canada,” he realizes he wouldn’t be able to face the sense of patriotic failure and shame, he wouldn’t be able to “swim away from his hometown and his country and his life,” and he wouldn’t be able to be brave. Because of this, Tim O’Brien “[went] to the war…[to] kill and maybe die...because [he] was embarrassed not to.” (56-59). And even years later, he sees this decision as pathetic. “I was a coward,” he reflects afterwards, “I went to the war” (61).

Norman Bowker is one of the other soldiers enlisted to go fight in the war, and really embodies the emotional toll war can have on the soldiers, during and...
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