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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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Why is Elroy Bendahl considered Tim O'Brien's hero in The Things they Carried?

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In Chapter 4, O'Brien is seriously considering leaving the United States for Canada to avoid going to Vietnam. He goes so far as to get in a car and drive to the Canadian border, where he encounters a fishing lodge, the Tip Top Lodge, run by an elderly man named Elroy Bendahl.  Elroy allows him to stay at the cabin, and O'Brien spends almost a week there, splitting wood and doing other chores to earn his keep. O'Brien realizes that Elroy understands why he is there when he tries to pay him, rather than accepting pay for the lodging, and he is moved by his lack of judgement:

The man's self-control was amazing. He never pried. He never put me in a position that required lies or denials...I think the man understood that words were insufficient...I was ashamed to be there at Tip Top Lodge. I was ashamed of my conscience, ashamed of doing the right thing. Some of this Elroy must have understood. Not the details, of course, but the plain fact of crisis.

A crucial moment in O'Brien's life occurs when he and Elroy go fishing on a river that divides the United States from Canada. O'Brien cannot make himself go to the other side and dodge the draft. He bursts into tears, and Elroy pretends not to notice. 

It struck me then that he must have planned it...I think he meant to bring me up against the realities, to guide me across the river and to take me to the edge and to stand a kind of vigil as I chose a life for myself. 

Elroy is there as O'Brien makes one of the seminal decisions of his life, and he does not judge. For this, O'Brien seems to view him as, if not a hero, certainly one of the most memorable people he has met. 

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