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The Theme Of Courage In The Novel The Things They Carried

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The definition of courage can be defined in endless ways. In the novel, The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien reveals the horror of the war through a series of stories, but beyond that he also offers his own insight into the nature of courage and fear. As you read the novel, and get deeper into each story you are almost able to imagine and feel the experience as if you were actually there. As a reader you begin to think if you were in these situations would you make the same decisions or do something different. Making a decision can be exceedingly tough, more when pressure is included. For example, in the beginning of the novel, O’Brien was sent a letter that he would be enlisted to fight in the Vietnam war.

The war was not something O’Brien had wanted any part in or believed to be worth his time. Tim believed he was too good for the war since he held great educational accomplishments, and expectations. When he had received his letter he had a hard time deciding if he should go and become a solider or flee his situation and leave everything behind. For days he tried to resist making the choice, that he soon began to resent his hometown for putting this kind of pressure on him. In the end, O’Brien left to become a soldier because he feared if he did not his reputation would be shattered and he would be perceived as weak. In the novel, Tim O’Brien can be viewed as a coward for deciding to go into the war due to his pride.

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Throughout the novel, Tim O’Brien displays an act where he lacks courage because of his concern of what people might think of him. However, Tim O’Brien was not a coward because he tried to runaway to Canada to escape the draft. He was not a coward because he went to war and killed people, or because he had a fear of disappointing his family. Tim O’Brien was a coward at the moment when he was along the border of Canada, “Right then, with the shore so close, I understood that I could not do what I should do. I would not swim away from my hometown and my country and my life...I would not go to the war --- I would kill and maybe die --- because I was embarrassed not to.’’ (O’Brien 55) This is when Tim O’Brien becomes, The Coward. As a reader, you can see that Tim O’Brien actually considers himself a coward because he could not bring himself together to have the courage, and defy the military draft. He could not follow by what he wanted, Tim choosing to go the war because he had a fear of shame and embarrassment reveals he is a character who has a lot of concern of what people might think of him. He would rather allow himself to have the possibility to die than to face shame and criticism.

Embarrassment of what one wants for the betterment induces the process of having courage. It is brave to face shame. It is brave to stand alone. It is brave to be selfish. Society implies an image even to this day that fighting in the war equals bravery. However, in the case of Tim O’Brien he possessed the potential to have bravery if only he had obeyed himself and ran from the war. For Tim O’Brien achieving bravery comes from the inability to set aside embarrassment. In a book, Tim O’Brien had also written, If I Die in a Combat Zone, he also states that the soldiers he had knew should not have been seen as courageous heroes because in many ways they were not. “When one goes to war, fights, and dies for a worthy and noble eause, we may call him courageous. But Vietnam, O'Brien says, is a war without reason — a 'wrong war' — not a war against evil, or fought in the name of a trusted Nation or God.” (Ooms 3)

In the things they carried, the character Tim O’Brien struggles to become a soldier or be seen as a hero in any matter. He did not stand up for what he believed in and refused to fight in a war that he did not understand or believe, but joined the military anyway. For this act, Tim O’Brien can be considered as a coward. Having courage has the power to either possess you as a hero or leave you to feel isolated. Doing what is needed to ensure you are bettering yourself is what having courage should be.

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