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"On the Rainy River" is a short story from Tim O'Brien's novel The Things They Carried, about his experiences in the Vietnam War. Although the story is fictionalized for emotional and dramatic reasons, O'Brien had many of the same doubts and reservations that he expresses in the work.
Young Tim O'Brien is drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Like many people his age, he feels no connection to the war or the motives behind it; he doesn't understand the history or why the U.S. is involved. After deciding to dodge the draft by fleeing to Canada, O'Brien is overcome with shame and guilt and eventually returns after an epiphany on the Rainy River.
O'Brien's conflict is between himself and his country, and to a lesser extent between himself and his own pride. O'Brien's guilt comes from his fear of serving crossed with the shame of fleeing the country; he worries that his parents will be humiliated by him, and that he will be caught. O'Brien also is concerned with his role in the war, and feels both unworthy of and not responsible for the war itself; he has no personal connection to it, and so doesn't understand why he has been drafted. O'Brien resolves his conflict with an internal decision to serve, against his principles, but allowing him to alleviate some of his guilt.
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