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Sample essay topic, essay writing: The Things They Carried: Courage Or Cowardice - 904 words
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Through The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien moves beyond the horror of fighting in the Vietnam War to examine with sensitivity and insight the nature of courage and fear. Included, is a collection of interrelated stories. A few of the stories are brutal, while others are flawed, blurring the distinction between fact and fiction. All the stories, however, deal with one platoon. Some are about the wartime experiences of soldiers, and others are about a 43-year-old writer reminiscing about his platoon's experiences.
In the beginning chapter, O'Brien rambles about the items the soldiers carry into battle, ranging from can openers, pocketknives, and mosquito repellent o Kool-Aid, sewing kits, and M-16 assault rifles. Yet, the story is truly about the intangible things the soldiers "carry": "grief, terror, love, longing.. shameful memories (and) the common secret of cowardice" (Harris & O'Brien 21). Most of the soldiers did not know what the overall purpose was of fighting the Vietnamese (Tessein). The young men "carried the soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place" (O'Brien 21)
The soldiers did not go to war for glory or honor, but simply to avoid the "blush of dishonor" (21). In fact, O'Brien states "It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards." The soldiers went to war because they were too scared of being scolded by the entire country for being too much of a coward to fight for their nation. Zuniga 2Some of the soldiers were such cowards that they injured themselves just to be taken away in a helicopter and extracted from the war scene. The soldiers "spoke bitterly about guys who had found release by shooting off their own toes or fingers.
Pussies, they'd say. Candy-asses" (22). However, deep down inside, the soldiers who did all the mocking "imagined the quick, sweet pain, then the evacuation to Japan, then a hospital with warm beds and cute geisha nurses" (22). The soldiers even dreamt at night about freedom birds. The men were flying on a "real bird, a big sleek silver bird with feathers and talons and high screeching..
The weights fell off; there was nothing to bear" (22). The soldiers did not want to be at war, they imagined to themselves "It's (the war) over, I'm gone!-they were naked, they were light and free" (22). Furthermore, O'Brien himself admits he went to war not out of courage, but out of embarrassment and cowardice. In the chapter "On The Rainy River," O'Brien received a draft letter for the Vietnam War. He was in shock, "I was too good for this war.
Too smart, too compassionate, to everything. It couldn't happen. I was above it. A mistake, maybe-a foul up in the paperwork. I was no soldier.. I remember the rage in my stomach.
Later it burned down to a smoldering self-pity, then to numbness" (41-42). Obviously, O'Brien did not want to go to war. However, he was not sure if he had the guts to flee to Canada, "I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile. I was afraid of walking away from my own life, my friends and my family, my whole history, everything that mattered to me. I feared losing the respect of my parents. I feared the law. I feared ridicule and censure" (44-45). O'Brien did not want to risk embarrassment and thus ended up going to war.
Moreover, he clearly states ,I couldn't risk the embarrassment. It was as if there were an audience to my life, that swirl of faces along the river, Zuniga 3and in my head I could hear people screaming at me. Traitor! They yelled. Turncoat! Pussy! I felt myself blush.I couldn't tolerate it. I couldn't endure the mockery, or thedisgrace, or the patriotic ridicule.
Even in my imagination,the shore was just twenty yards away, I couldn't make myself be brave. It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that's all it was. (59)O'Brien did not have the courage to swim ashore to Canada and free himself from having to fight in the war. He was a coward, for he "would go to war-(he) would kill and maybe die-because (he was embarrassed not to" (59). Throughout The Things They Carried, O'Brien makes it clear that the reason soldiers went to the Vietnam War was out of cowardice.
No one wanted to risk embarrassment of not fighting in the war and fleeing to Canada. The soldiers fought and died in the war because they were too scared of being a coward. Others, however, were not. Some injured themselves just to be taken away in a helicopter to a cozy hospital. Either way, one was a coward for fighting and not fighting in the war.
If one fought in the war, it was because he was afraid of risking embarrassment. If one did not fight in the war, it is because he is afraid of battle. In addition, O'Brien admits his own cowardice when he states that he could not risk the embarrassment of not going to war. He "couldn't endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule" (59).Zuniga 4Works CitedO'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Broadway Books: Broadway, NY.
1990.Harris, Robert. Too Embarrassed Not to Kill. <http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/20/special s/obrien-carried.html>. March 11, 1990. Visited Jan. 16, 2002.
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