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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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What kind of job did Tim have during the summer of 1968 in "On the Rainy River" in The Things They Carried?

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Tim works in a meatpacking plant during the summer of 1968. He keeps his draft notice tucked away and does a great deal of soul-searching that summer in deciding whether to go to war or run away to Canada.

Tim's job is quite important in understanding who he is at the time. He hates his assembly line job removing blood clots from the pigs. He calls it a "disassembly line" and complains that he goes home "smelling of pig. It wouldn't go away." Everything about his job at the plant disgusts him, yet he continues to work there. Even after a shower, the pig smell stays with him, and he complains that he cannot get dates because his skin and his hair reek of pig. Despite these terrible consequences, Tim continues working at the plant, feeling he has no choice.

He believes this lack of choice also extends to the draft notice. Tim states that he feels lonely because he is alone. His being alone is literal as well as figurative. He knows that no one can help him make up his mind about whether to go to war, and no one will be there with him no matter where he goes. If he goes to Vietnam, he leaves his loved ones behind. If he runs to Canada, he leaves his loved ones behind. Either way, he risks losing everything. He says "my life seemed to be collapsing toward slaughter. I felt paralyzed." Although he contemplates running, in the end, Tim decides to go to war merely because he's too embarrassed not to.

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The author of this story remembers that during the summer of 1968, when he had received his draft notice calling him to fight in the Vietnam War, he was working in an Armour meatpacking plant in his hometown of Worthington, Minnesota. His job was to remove blood clots from the necks of dead pigs. This was not a very salubrious occupation, and he remembers how he used to stink of dead pig, and this was an odour he could not remove, no matter how often he showered. This added to his sense of isolation and loneliness, as he reports he found it very difficult to get a date:

I felt isolated; I spent  a lot of time alone. And there was also that draft notice tucked away in my wallet.

Such details add to the sense that the author is thinking very carefully about what he is going to do and how he is going to proceed. He needs to make a decision about whether he is going to fight in this war that he feels so uncertain about and in many ways opposes, or whether he is going to take the step of going to Canada and therefore avoiding the draft. Either way, his job gives him plenty of opportunities to think very carefully about his options.

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