In Tim OBriens The Things They Carried, the protagonist, Tim OBrien is drafted into the Vietnam War. OBrien, being young and nave about the lifestyle of war, is scared and doesnt know what to do. After battling with his conscience about fleeing the country and dodging the draft, OBrien reluctantly decides to go to the Vietnam War because he doesnt want his parents to think less of him.
Throughout his time in the war OBriens behavior suggests that the mental and physical effects of war can dramatically affect a mans innocence and rapidly move him into maturity.OBrien was forced to experience death at an early age. This early turning point in his life would prepare him for the horror he would face in Vietnam. In the story The Lives of the Dead, OBrien tells about his first real love, Linda. OBrien and Linda were each nine years old. OBriens love for Linda at such a young age suggests that he was mature beyond his years at only nine. At the same time however, his love for her was entirely innocent. Linda died of brain cancer at nine years old.
OBrien had lost not only a friend but a person whom he dearly loved. He dealt with it at first by attempting not to accept her death, but eventually he faces reality and sees her dead body for himself. Later, OBrien would make up stories and make Linda come alive in his dreams. She was nine years old. I loved her and then she died. And yet right here in the spell of memory and imagination I can still see her (OBrien 273). The influence of Lindas death and OBriens dreams of her being alive would both tie into what he did during the war and after the war. During the war Lindas death would ready him for the death of Vietnam.
His dreams of her being alive would act as a building block for the stories he would write as a means of coping with the death of friends in Vietnam.OBrien was innocent before he went to the Vietnam War; OBrien deciding not to flee the country is his first step in going from innocence to maturity. He lived in a small town and had no worries. In the story On the Rainy River, OBrien receives his draft notice and starts driving towards Canada. OBrien who was twenty-one years old at that time was terrified of the idea of leaving everything he had every known behind. On his way to Canada OBrien stops at the Tip Top Lodge.
This conveys that he is having second thoughts about going through with dodging the draft. At the Tip Top Lodge OBrien meets Elroy, the owner, and spends the next week at the lodge with him. Throughout the week OBrien considers what he is about to do. Although no mention is made about the draft dodging, Elroy knows what is on OBriens mind.
It is clear to Elroy that OBrien doesnt want to dodge the draft and he needs some guidance in making the decision. Then, Elroy decides to take OBrien on the Rainy River. Elroy takes OBrien close enough to Canada where he can either go or stay and face Vietnam.
Elroys impression was correct. OBrien decides to go to the war, reluctantly, admitting he is a coward. Beyond all this, or at the very center, was the raw fact of terror. I did not want to die. Not ever. But certainly not then not there not in a wrong war (OBrien 47).OBrien openly admits he does not want to fight a war he feels is wrong. Nevertheless, he does not want to disgrace his family or his country, so he dismisses his fear and heads home to prepare for Vietnam, thus beginning his journey from innocence to maturity.
During OBriens first couple of days in the war he endeavors to hold on to his innocence while he witnesses the brutality and immorality of war. In the story The Lives of the Dead, OBriens platoon enters a village they had just attacked. They find the body of a man who was just killed in the attack. OBriens platoon mates go up to the dead man and talk to him, as though he were alive, shake hands and also speak for him. This behavior demonstrates that men in a war environment act in a certain way that they wouldnt act back at home. One of OBriens friends, Dave Jensen, tells him to introduce himself to the dead man but OBrien refuses. His refusal implies that OBrien has not yet bought into the harshness of war and is still holding on to his chastity. No.
I couldnt do it. A mental block or something I dont know, just creepy (OBrien 257). All of this comes down to these facts: in war, because the only goal is survival, attitudes change. Morals dont exist.
Once the American soldier is exposed to the kill or be killed mentality of their enemy, there are no rules, there are no feelings, there is no sympathy, and there are no certainties. The only thing that matters is survival, and men will do anything to survive.OBriens struggle to hold on to his innocence cant go on forever.
War makes maturing inevitable. In the story The Man I Killed, OBrien tells of the first man he killed. OBrien attempts to give the dead man a life by telling what he thinks the mans life might have been like. By doing this OBrien makes the man a real, normal human being just like himself. By killing a man OBrien matures in that he has done things and seen things that ninety percent of people never do or see in their lifetime. War makes him the equivalent of the wise old man. He appreciates life and doesnt take things for granted.
War changes a mans view of life forever. Though its odd, youre never more alive than when youre almost dead. You recognize whats valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love whats best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost (OBrien 88).
In war, change is inescapable. It is something that all who experience war go through. Some people change for the better, some change for the worse. OBrien, in his case, changed for the better.In OBriens journey from innocence to maturity he goes from being twenty-one years old, straight out of college to being a respectful man that learned the essential facts of life through the experience of war. He relives his life in Vietnam by writing stories. Now through these stories he is holding on to the lessons he learned in Vietnam and he wouldnt trade them for anything.