In The Things They Carried, after his time with Elroy in "On the Rainy River," why does the narrator realize that Canada is not an option for him?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The narrator has spent some time trying to work up to fleeing the country and thereby escaping the draft. Elroy Berdahl in this excellent story strikes us as an incredibly understanding presence, who gives the narrator the opportunity to flee, but then does not judge him when he is not able to take that opportunity. The narrator tells us that what stopped him from crossing the border was embarrassment. Even though he tried to leave, he tells us it just was not possible for him to go:

All those eyes on me--the town, the whole universe--and I couldn't risk the embarrassment. It was as if there were an audience to my life, that swirl of faces along the river, and 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 mocker, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule. Even in my imagination, the shore just twenty yards away, I couldn't make myself be brave. It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that's all it was.

Thus the narrator feels shamed into staying, not through any emotion except through the shame and the feeling of embarrassment of what people would say when they found out that he had missed being drafted by fleeing the country. He was "embarrassed not to" go to the war, and this, at the end of the day, became the conquering emotion that won out.

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