Summer Reading: on the Rainy River by Tim O’Brien

There were many different stories in the Summer Reading Collection that made me explore different aspects of writing. They each used several techniques to add to the complexity and overall understanding of the story. The one story that had brought the greatest reaction out of me was the short story, On The Rainy River, by Tim O’Brien. The story focuses on the author as he contemplates whether or not he should respond to the draft call and go to war. One of the parts of the story that I enjoyed was the main character’s indecisiveness which he grapples with for the entirety of the story. In the short story, it states,” That’s part of it, no doubt, but what embarrasses me much more, and always will, is the paralysis that took my heart.

A moral freeze: I couldn’t decide, I couldn’t act, I couldn’t comport myself with even a pretense of modest human dignity.( page 122)” This part got to me because he simply couldn’t choose between doing what’s best for him, and what the government had decided. He knew that going to war could get him killed and like any young adult, it’s hard to throw away your life when you have so much more to live for. It’s a part of everyone, not just the author. The fear of death.

Even so, his internal conflict was had more to it. Another part that had made me think and made the decision harder for the author was the reason for the war. In the short story, it states” It was my view then, and still is, that you don’t make war without knowing why. Knowledge ,of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can’t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can’t make them undead. In any case those were my convictions, and back in college I had taken a modest stand against the war.( page 116).”

This had really had made me think because today, there aren’t any drafts that force men into war. Many brave people volunteer to brace the harsh reality of possible death for the sake of their country. In this case however, the mental conflict in his mind was not only the selfish but normal will to live, but also the fear of dying for something he didn’t believe in. He didn’t want to sacrifice anyone else’s life as much as his own for the obscure meaning of the Vietnam War. The biggest part that had made me rethink my morals was the reason why he finally decided to go to war. In the short story, it states”It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that’s all it was. And right then I submitted.

I would go to the war – I would kill and maybe die – because I was embarrassed not to.( page 123)” This was extremely sad because the end result of his argument was not that he would go because he believed it was the just thing to do, he didn’t change his mind about the war, nor maybe find his answer to empower him into feeling alright about going to the war. He went because of others, because he didn’t want to look weak in front of others.

It was like doing what your friends do because of peer pressure. He left behind so many of his morals,he had killed another person and fought in the war because of the fear of exclusion by his closest family and friends. For me, it was hard to read about someone people would call an unsung hero go to war for something he didn’t believe in. As hard as it was to read, it was interesting to see his struggle which made it the most intriguing story out of all of them in my opinion. 

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