CHapter Fifteen  Speaking of Courage How does this chapter speak of courage? 

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In chapter 15, Norman Bowker returns to Iowa and drives his father's Chevy around a lake numerous times on the Fourth of July reminiscing about how he could have won the Silver Star for valor. Norman Bowker recalls the night his platoon settled in a sewage field and began taking...

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In chapter 15, Norman Bowker returns to Iowa and drives his father's Chevy around a lake numerous times on the Fourth of July reminiscing about how he could have won the Silver Star for valor. Norman Bowker recalls the night his platoon settled in a sewage field and began taking mortar fire. That night, the banks of the Song Tra Bong overflowed, and Norman recalls the overpowering smell of old sewage as the explosions blew up foul-smelling buried waste. During the artillery exchange, Kiowa was hit and began to sink in the mud. Norman suddenly grabbed Kiowa's boot and pulled but could not prevent him from sinking into the field. Norman eventually let go of Kiowa's boot because he could no longer tolerate the awful smell and disgusting environment. Norman says he would have won the Silver Star for valor if he had dived into the sewage and brought back Kiowa's body, but the smell was too much to tolerate.

In regards to courage, O'Brien says,

Sometimes the bravest thing on earth was to sit through the night and feel the cold in your bones. Courage was not always a matter of yes or no. Sometimes it came in degrees, like the cold; sometimes you were very brave up to a point and then beyond that point you were not so brave. In certain situations you could do incredible things, you could advance toward enemy fire, but in other situations, which were not nearly so bad, you had trouble keeping your eyes open (94).

Essentially, O'Brien is commenting on the ambiguous nature of courage. While the majority of society would like to think of courage as black and white, Norman's story illustrates the vague, complicated, and obscure nature of bravery and courage. Something as significant as a smell can be the difference between performing courageously or hesitating to act.

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In this chapter Norman has a flashback to a moment in Vietnam when he found it impossible to be brave and save his friend. He just couldn't do it, and he feels humilated by his weakness. It was the stink of the place and other small details that undermined his courage, he figures out as he thinks this through. Understanding this (to the extent that he does, because the entire incident is told through a hallucinatory experience)causes him to think that courage is fluid and inconsistent, made up of trivialities and sometimes undermined by trivialities as well, determined by elements of the situation that would seem to have little to do with the matter.  Courage is much more complicated that he knew.

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