Many of the characters in The Things They Carried exemplify tremendous pride in their actions, causing them to do good or bad things that they would not have the courage to do otherwise. O’Brien’s personal experience shows that the fear of being shamed before one’s fellow soldiers is a powerful motivating factor in war. He does not want to fight in a war he believes is unjust, but he does not want to be thought of as a coward. This same attitude among numerous characters sets a consistent theme in the novel. The story “On the Rainy River” develops the theme of pride as a motivating factor, first introduced by Jimmy Cross in “The Things They Carried” and “Love.” Just as Jimmy Cross feels guilty about Ted Lavender’s death, O’Brien feels guilty about going to Vietnam against his principles. He even stated, “I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile.” (42) “What it came down to, stupidly, was a sense of shame. I did not want people to think badly of me.” (49) By describing his personal history, O’Brien proves the conflict soldiers often face when making a decision, whether it’s to join the war or take a certain action while serving. The characters in the novel often have to decide whether to give in to the pressure of their peers or stick with their principles and conscience. “I would go to the war – I would kill and maybe die – because I was embarrassed not to.” (57) O’Brien’s dilemma about going to Vietnam demonstrates how the war was fought by soldiers who were often reluctant and conflicted. “Speaking of Courage” is another chapter in which pride is proven to be a determining factor in the thoughts and actions of the characters in the novel. After the war, Norman Bowker returns to Iowa. As he drives around in his father’s truck, Bowker reminisces about his times of service. Clockwise, as if in orbit, he took the Chevy on another seven-mile turn around the lake.” (133) He realizes that he had the opportunity to earn a Silver Star, something...
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