illustration of the backside of a soldier in full military gear

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

Start Free Trial

Student Question

Why does Tim consider himself a coward for going to war in The Things They Carried?

Quick answer:

Tim considers himself a coward for going to war in The Things They Carried because he is only going to evade the shame of being seen as unpatriotic or unmanly.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the chapter "On the Rainy River," Tim describes how he decided to ultimately go to war in Vietnam. He was drafted, but it was a war he did not believe in (in fact, he wrote student newspaper articles against it), and he felt he would only be throwing his life away were he to agree to go. He views those who go to war as cowards or "back-to-the-stone-age hawk[s]." He considers running away to Canada, but in the end, he decides to remain in the United States and join the military.

Tim views this decision as being the cowardly one, contrary to what one might expect. Normally, a draft dodger would be seen as cowardly since they are viewed as unwilling to risk death for a patriotic cause. They are seen as acting against the collective interests of the country in exchange for their own self-interest. However, Tim views his decision to answer the call as cowardly because he is acting against his principles just so he will not shame his parents or be seen as cowardly by the general public. He cares more about what people think than following what he feels is right: he feels, as he says earlier in the story, it is better to die from bullets than to "die from embarrassment."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial