The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Tim O’Brien develops his characters in a variety of ways. Because Paul Berlin provides the point of view for the entire novel, it is through his eyes that the reader comes to know the other characters. The character of Paul himself develops in several ways. First, in the “Observation Post” chapters, the reader is inside Paul’s mind as he considers the nature of courage and of his own past actions. In addition, the reader comes to understand Paul as a thoughtful, reflective young man, someone who thinks about the role of memory and imagination in the creation of reality. Second, the reader comes to know Paul by the way the other characters treat him. When Paul reflects on the past six months, he seems to be a naïve and clumsy young man, someone who does not always know what action he ought to take. In short, he seems to be much less in control of himself in these chapters than in the others. Finally, the reader comes to know Paul by the idealized version of himself that he creates in his own imagination in the fantasy journey chapters. In these chapters, Paul is a kind, brave young man who ends up with the girl they find along the road.

O’Brien also develops characters by pairing them with other characters. For example, O’Brien develops the character of Doc Peret, a realist, by contrasting him with Paul, the dreamer. Likewise, O’Brien develops the character of Lieutenant Corson, an older, sick commanding officer, by contrasting him with the...

(The entire section is 444 words.)