It is worth noting that the book The Things They Carried is a series of stories about the life of American servicemen that was written in an ironic tone. The work created by Tim O’Brien reveals the physical and mental traumas experienced by soldiers during the war (Liu 57). The purpose of this paper is to analyze the concepts of cowardice and bravery as applied to this book.
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Importantly, the notions of cowardice and bravery are interconnected in the text, and sometimes one feeling replaces the other. The reader may come across multiple instances in the book when the soldiers act either bravely or cowardly, and these numerous situations push the audience to comprehend the complex nature of fear and courage. The story reveals that some soldiers wound themselves intentionally to be taken away from the battlefield.
Such cowardly decisions are ridiculed by those who need to stay and continue fighting (O’Brien 21). Nevertheless, their true feelings remain hidden as they cannot publicly confess that they are just as cowardly. As the story puts it, soldiers “imagined the quick, sweet pain, then the evacuation to Japan, then a hospital with warm beds and cute geisha nurses” (O’Brien 21). Therefore, it may be assumed that bravery visible to other people is fictional since soldiers cannot admit they are scared and not brave enough to hurt themselves.
Moreover, soldiers are so afraid of war and of what can happen there, they see dreams in which freedom birds come and save them. The author writes, “the weights fell off; there was nothing to bear” (O’Brien 21). This quotation implies that servicemen do not want to be at war and the only way to feel relieved is to dream. They are trying to find a way to escape from the brutal reality that scares them, which is a natural psychological reaction to an immense stressor (Kaurin 118). Interestingly, in one of the stories, the author confesses that he went to war not because he was brave enough but because he felt embarrassed not to do it.
As the reader moves further in the book, they may assume that the author offers an alternative perception of bravery. The writer suggests a viewpoint in which courage is a complex feeling that cannot be easily deconstructed. That is, soldiers may not be brave enough, but they may fantasize about becoming heroes, and this feeling of cowardice forces them to commit courageous acts.
The author writes that “war is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love” (O’Brien 76). Then he continues: “War makes you a man; war makes you dead” (O’Brien 76). Therefore, the internal motivation of a brave person may stem from deep feelings of shame and fear and a range of other mixed emotions.
Thus, it can be concluded that bravery and fear are contradictory in character and they are not pure feelings. A soldier often feels both scared and ready to commit the feat. The book explicates to the reader that war evokes inconsistent emotions in a human being. It is natural to feel terror and despair while also acting bravely, and this is the core of motivation in the context of war.
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Kaurin, Pauline M. The Warrior, Military Ethics and Contemporary Warfare: Achilles Goes Asymmetrical. Routledge, 2016.
Liu, Rossina Zamora. “The Things They Carried: Unpacking Trauma Scripts inside a Community Writing Workshop.” Counselling Psychology Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 1, 2013, pp. 55-71.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.