War is often thought about as something that hardens a soldier. It makes a person stronger emotionally because they are taught not show it and deal with it internally. People say that death in war is easier to handle because it is for the right reasons and a person can distance themselves from the pain of losing someone. However, there is always a point when the pain becomes too real and it is hard to maintain that distance. In doing so, the story disputes the idea that witnessing a traumatic event causes a numbing or blockage of feelings. Rat Kiley’s progression of sentiment began with an initial concern for the buffalo, transforming into an irate killing of the animal, and then ending with an ultimate acceptance of death. These outward displays of feeling suggested that witnessing the death of a close friend caused him to become emotionally involved in the war.
When the buffalo was originally taken in, Rat had a soft and nurturing mind-set towards the buffalo. He displayed his affection by stroking the nose of the buffalo and offering food, which seemed like a natural and normal response to do to animal that had just been taken in. In a way, Rat was trying to make the buffalo a pet and use it to replace Curt as a friend. However, to most people, this was uncharacteristic of the typical soldier. The classic soldier was viewed as being callous and uncaring. By Rat displaying this type of amiable characteristic, it went against the ideology of how a soldier reacts to war. A soldier should maintain distant from the war and just do the job that he was given without showing emotion. However, the simple fact that Rat showed any sentiment at all proposed that death evokes feelings because his friend just died and he was able to care about a buffalo.
In sharp contrast to the compassionate way Rat originally treated the buffalo, he began to show anger and craze. When the buffalo did not want the food, Rat changed his attitude towards the animal. He no longer had the sweet, gentle outlook. The buffalo’s refusal to eat the food resulted in Rat feeling unwanted and betrayed by the buffalo because it did not need him nor wanted anything to do with him. This symbolizes how Curt no longer needed Rat and had betrayed him by dying and leaving him alone in the war. The rage he felt for his friend being killed was now being placed upon the buffalo.
Rat’s attitude had changed as quickly as his best friend was killed. Rat had a hard time accepting the idea that one minute he had been playing game with Curt and the next minute his best friend was splattered in a tree. A loss that sudden is hard to handle because one does not have the necessary amount of time to process it. Therefore, it can cause confusion in the emotions one has after the event. Rat wanted to make someone else feel the pain he was feeling. The narrator specified this by declaring, “It wasn’t to kill; it was to hurt” (O’Brien 75). Rat did not want the buffalo to die, only...