The Things They Carried

on the rainy road clarify with references to the text what O'Brien's convictions are

on the rainy road clarify with references to the text what O'Brien's convictions are

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O’Brien prefaces this story by saying that it is a hard series of events for him to recount. He thinks that the story proves him to be a coward. It is the story of how he ended up serving in Vietnam.

After graduating from Macalester College in 1968, O’Brien planned to attend Harvard University. But on June 17, 1968, he received a draft card. He had to make the decision whether or not to go to war.

O’Brien had protested the war, but not strongly enough to be considered a pacifist. O’Brien is shamed to remember that he thought he was too good, too smart for the war -- so he considered running away to Canada. He was split between the instinct to run, and the instinct to do what everyone expected: go to war. At the time, he worked at a meatpacking factory hosing down pig carcasses. O’Brien recalls that summer that he always smelled of pig. He felt depressed and alone. He was angry that everyone in his town expected him to go to war, but no one knew the first thing about Vietnam or its history.

O’Brien recounts that he decided to run away to Canada. He left a note for his parents, and took the car and headed north. He found a fishing resort called the Tip Top Lodge, and the owner, Elroy Berdahl, took him in without asking questions. Berdahl never asked O’Brien questions, he just played Scrabble with the boy, gave him odd jobs to do, and ate meals with him. But O’Brien concluded that the old man read the paper, he was “no hick;” he knew that O’Brien was contemplating dodging the draft.

One day Berdahl took O’Brien out fishing one. Berdahl steered the boat all the way to the border with Canada and then waited. He even turned around, away from O’Brien, while the boy made his decision. The boy thought, Now’s my chance. He almost jumped out of the boat. He considered fleeing.

But he imagined a huge crowd of people in the mountains around the river. O’Brien writes that he imagined his parents watching, his town watching, Linda watching, all of the people from his past and future watching him make his decision. He imagined being hunted down by the FBI. In the end he couldn’t bring himself to jump out of the boat. O’Brien cried, but told Berdahl to take him back to the lodge. He paid Elroy for the room and drove home to his parents. “I was a coward,” he writes. “I went to war.” (55)