Cowardice in Disguise
Most of the time people do things or do not do things because of what others think of them and how they will be perceived. When one thinks about a person going off to war, they usually vision a man being courageous, and the man coming back with maybe a purple heart or coming back unharmed. Even if the man does not come home alive he is still seen courageous for serving his country, so he dies with honor. Tim OBrien believes that courage is having the ability to stand out of a war when one is scared even when others might oppose it. The Things They Carried, gives the reader insight into two types of courage. The reader sees the exterior of what courage stereotypically looks like which is tough. The second type of courage is when OBrien examines the courage within which is not going to war when one is scared.
In The Things They Carried, Tim OBrien defines courage as They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to freeze or hide, and in many aspects was the heaviest burden of all (605). Going to war is like gambling, one will never know if he or she will come back alive or not. This means that the soldier is going to war whether they want to or not, because they do not want to be looked down upon as a coward. Obviously OBrien believes that a large percentage of the people who go to war go out of not wanting to be shamed for not participating when in reality, the soldier is scared straight.
Men killed and died, because they were embarrassed not to (OBrien 605). Before reading this passage the reader may only think of fear as fear and courage as courage not the two combined in some way. OBrien suggests that a man will not confess that he is scared to go to war. Whether one wants to go to war or not, they go because they do not want to be viewed as being Pussies (OBrien 605). These men fear for their lives, so they use items as coping mechanisms to take their mind off of the war. These items give them hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. An example as such hope is displayed in statements like, Lieutenant Cross carried his good-luck pebble (OBrien 601). The reader sees fear in this man, because he has the superstition that this special pebble will somehow get him through the war. Lieutenant Cross does not want to bare the shame of being a coward, so he holds on to this pebble to hide his fear. The pebble is considered to be a representation of Cross fear of dying. If people had the ability to be scared without thinking there is a penalty for their action then, The Things They Carried is without purpose.
When a man is fighting in a war only to get respect or to refrain from being viewed as a coward, then he is truly the coward. OBrien gives the meaning of going to war deeper thought. He sees all the men around and notices how tough they look on the outside, but he finds gold in the interior, this reveals how scared they really are of going to war and not wanting to be held accountable as a coward. The only courageous men are the ones who take the pain and cause physical harm towards himself. The Candy-asses (OBrien 605), are the true heroes of the war, because even though they know they will be mocked and ridiculed by the courageous men, they face the humiliation that the cowards do not.
The Things They Carried is the perfect example of how the eyes of society have a big affect on peoples actions. In the story Tim OBrien states, It was what had brought them to war in the first place, nothing positive, no dream of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor (605). Often times in society when one sees that another has been laughed at or shamed for a particular action, he or she will refuse to fall under the same category of shame. A person should not feel obligated to perform a certain duty or task such as going to war because every other man is entering the chaos. Not only does the soldier have to deal with emotional stress but the worry of losing his life. Imagine calling a soldier a coward that just came back from war; the soldier would be outraged and will argue that the antagonist has no idea what went on, on the battlefield. On the physical aspect of this event the soldier is brave for putting his body through turbulence, but his emotional side is full of cowardice behavior because he knew before he went off to war, he was like a baby who wanted his mother.
The nature of courage in, The Things They Carried, reminds me of a schoolyard fight. Usually when one is picked on and a fight escalates, the one being bullied will not back off; because if he does he will be looked at as a scary-cat. The bullied one cannot face other children antagonizing him for not sticking up for himself; he would never be looked at as a hero or as courageous. The soldiers do not want to be viewed as the soldier that cannot protect his country, so they put on masks of composure (OBrien 605). In the story Tim OBrien wants the reader to realize that being courageous does not always mean being able to go to war and having the courage to be there physically. True courage wants to go against the odds which is to be openly scared and not go to war.