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Commentary on The Things They Carried Essay


"On The Rainy River" is a story about shame and embarrassment. The character the story fallowed, Tim, is drafted to go fight in Vietnam, and must decide whether he should fight in a war he doesn't believe in or escape the draft and flee to Canada. At one point, Tim is on a boat only yards away from Canada trying to convince himself to run away. Fear of judgment from his family and friends prevent him from following his beliefs, and not going to fight. When Tim is on a boat, with Canada close enough to reach, he "gripped the edge of the boat and leaned forward and thought, now" (59). He "did try" to jump out but "it just wasn't possible (59). Tim feared the shame and ridicule of those he knew enough to go against his beliefs.

The story "The Dentist" is about Curt Lemons, described as "the tough soldier", and the shame he felt after he had a check up with a dentist (86). The dentist was choppered in to give everyone in the platoon a dental check up. While waiting for his turn, Curt Lemons began to tense up and fidget with his dog tags. When it was his turn to go he fainted before the doctor even touched him. Later that night Lemons returned to the dentist and told him that his tooth hurt. The dentist could not find anything wrong with the tooth, but Lemons kept demanding, so the dentist pulled out a "perfectly good tooth" (88). The shame and embarrassment that Curt Lemons felt after he fainted was unbearable for him. He felt like he lost the image he had of a daredevil that feared nothing. He reacted by getting a healthy tooth pulled to, in a way, undo the embarrassment that was caused. In the morning he felt as if he redeemed himself, and was "all smiles" (88).

In both of the stories the main character felt shame and embarrassment. The shame that Tim felt in "On the Rainy River" led to the abandonment of his beliefs, which shows how easily a person can be swayed by the fear of judgment from others. Just like Tim, Curt Lemons also felt embarrassed and would put his body at harm to avoid that feeling. In many cases shame can be more powerful than your morals or your fears.

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