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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.
It also reflects how Bowker felt he needed affirmation from others to truely feel courageous. Though Norman was well aware of all that he had accomplished throughout the war, he was unable to get all that he carried with him off of his chest. He thought about telling his high school sweetheart.. his dead best friend.. his father.. even the employee at the A&W rootbeer stand. He could not say it, though. "There was nothing to say. He could not talk about it and never would." (153) This inability to communicate reflects a serious issue facing many soldiers, which, in its own way can be looked at as a fault in his courage.
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