Tim ran from draft notice. Does this mean he was a coward? Explain his self-judgement; why was Canada not an option for him then.look at the paragraph where he says, "I was a coward. I went to...

Tim ran from draft notice. Does this mean he was a coward? Explain his self-judgement; why was Canada not an option for him then.

look at the paragraph where he says, "I was a coward. I went to war."

Chapter 4

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"On the Rainy River" is one of the few, if not only, completely fictional stories in The Things They Carried.  The others are part fiction based on real events.  Although the author O'Brien obviously received a draft notice, he never stayed near the border; there was no Elroy.  O'Brien only contemplated going to Canada.  Therefore, Canada was never really an option; otherwise, we would have no novel.  The story is a way to flesh out O'Brien's moral confusion.

One of the main themes in the novel is the group (collective) versus the individual.  The final line of the story, the paradox "I was a coward.  I went to war" comes from O'Brien's personal value system, and it juxtaposes the collective, prevailing notion of duty in war.  According to his anti-war, liberal arts educated beliefs, he should have not fought in an immoral war.  He should have gone to Canada.  He, therefore, shows an internal cowardice.

According to his father's WWII-generation, more traditional value system, his act of serving his country is a worthy duty, if not heroic.  Going to Canada, to them, is cowardice.  So, we not only have a generational gap with regard to patriotism but also with morality.  The older generations put God and country above personal values.  O'Brien, the individual, questions God and country through personal reflection.

In the end, O'Brien regrettably opts for traditional duty over personal misgivings.  O'Brien even tempers his anti-war stance elsewhere in the novel, knowing that--as Vonnegut said--it is impossible to write an anti-war novel: "Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?"  War is inevitable; anti-war misgivings won't stop it; Canada is not an option, morally or even artistically.

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The Things They Carried

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