Tim OBriens, The Things they Carried is a riveting tale of struggle and sacrifice, self indulgence and self pity, and the intrapersonal battles that reeked havoc on even the most battle tested soldiers. OBrien is able to express these ideas through eloquent writing and descriptive language that makes the reader feel as if he were there. The struggle to avoid cowardice is a prevailing idea in all of OBriens stories. In â€œeOn the Rainy Riverâ€, OBrien writes of intrapersonal struggle in its most profound form. The gripping torture of indecision seemed to paralyze Lt. Jimmy Cross in every move he made.
Fear is what kept him away from the war, and fear is what made him join his countrymen in battle. A pacifist who did not support the war, the narrator Jimmy Cross was forced to make the difficult decision of what was more important to him. In the end, it was Crosss reluctancy to deal with the consequences of pacifism which made his decision to go to war. That indecision seems to stay with Cross throughout the book and causes him much hardship in many of the short stories.
The struggle to avoid cowardice is very important to the narrator. In his time near the Canadian border, he has much time for self reflection. That self reflection seemed to be something very necessary for Lt. Jimmy Cross. While there, he discovered that devotion to his family, his hometown, and his country was stronger than devotion to his own morals. In those turbulent American times, protest was very common and political indifference was nowhere to be found. Issues of war ripped through families, cities, and eventually, the entire country.
By making the decision to go to the war, some would place the distinction of bravery on Cross. He, however, felt like a coward. For he had given in to the society around him and their pressures. Instead of following his heart and staying true to his morals, Cross took the easy way out. By fighting in the war, he avoided the criticism and ridicule which marred draft dodgers and the lifetime of embarrassment that was sure to follow. The narrator is torn between two worlds. In his heart and mind, he knows that the war is wrong and unjust. In his family, town, and nation, however, he was expected to fight. He must cross a number of hurdles on his way to a life altering decision. It seems the man has gotten beyond the idea of self embarrassment.
The problem for Cross, it seems, is the fact that his decision affects everyone around him. Like any young man in those times, he was scared. Not scared of death, but scared of life after the war. He knows that is he does not go to the war, his mother, his father, and all his friends will share the burden of his embarrassment. That is why he must go to the war. In a noble sort of way, Cross saves his family the embarrassment of draft dodging. In his mind, however, he is a coward, a man who simply put, could not stand up to himself in a time of turmoil.
This lack of confidence and self assurance is something that would play a big role in his decisions during the war. The war was not something anyone wanted. The war ripped apart families, communities, our nation, but most importantly, young men who would have otherwise lived great lives. These boys were crippled by indecision and paralyzed by fear. The fear was not of death, but of not being able to live with themselves. Being a coward did not mean being scared of war, it meant being scared of the ridicule one receives when they chose not to fight for the cause.