What are the most important steps in the development of the protagonist Tim O'Brien in The Things They Carried?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would turn to one of my favourite stories in this collection, which is "On the Rainy River," which details Tim O'Brien's life before going to Vietnam and being drafted and explores his motives for not fleeing the United States to Canada to avoid the draft like so many other young Americans. This is an important step for Tim O'Brien's character because it shows how he is moving towards self-understanding and awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses and what motivates him. Note the conclusion that he comes to when he is actually at the point of crossing the border:

I couldn't tolerate it. I couldn't endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule. Even in my imagination, the shore just twenty yards away, I couldn't make myself be brave. It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that's all it was.

Tim O'Brien comes face to face with the fact that the only reason he is not brave enough to dodge the draft and flee to Canada is that "he was embarrassed not to." This is a key moment--an epiphany if you like--where he realises something very important about himself.

Read the study guide:
The Things They Carried

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