Terror In Tim O´Brien´S On The Rainy River

1303 words - 6 pages

“How many years can some people exist before they're allowed to be free...How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn't see?” The lyrics of Blowin’ in the Wind strike the painful feeling when our dignity is smothered by unbearable fear. In the short story “On the Rainy River”, Tim O’Brien explores the idea that we cannot follow our heart in the face of terror. Through his experiences, O’Brien suggests that when our insecurity clashes with our self-respect, our moral conscience is often torn into pieces until we are left with no choice but to accept the ruthless reality with a desperate heart.

A society, a place, an attitude, an expectation---all of these contribute to a character’s response to threatening forces. Tim’s insecurity ignites in the Cold War, where the world tatters into two extreme ideologies, and “certain blood [is] shed for uncertain reasons”. Tim remains “politically naïve” until one day a draft notice flies into his pocket. He is conscripted to “fight a war he [hates]”---the Vietnam War. Confusion, rage, exasperation freeze his mind: Why me? I am not a hero! I am too good! I hate wars! But all of them melt into a “silent howl” inside his head. Tim’s summer job in a meatpacking plant allows him to envision himself as a soldier. “Standing for eight hours a day under a lukewarm blood shower”, holding a massive water gun, he “[removes] blood clots from the necks of the dead pigs”. The carcasses and the gore evoke the disturbing images of brutal and merciless battles in his mind. His body shivers and sweats run down in his face, as if he is torturing the political enemies, and their blood is splattering everywhere for absurd reasons. When he goes home, Tim is irritated by the obnoxious smell that “[soaks] deep into his skin and hair”. No matter how many times he bathes, he cannot wash it out. He cannot bear the thought of bloodshed. He can never become immune to the slaughtering. His inability to become desensitizes to atrocities tells him that he must run away from tyranny. He puts the water gun down and walks out of the gruesome slaughterhouse. He tucks away the disturbing draft notice in his pocket, escaping the heavy burden of being a valiant soldier on the battlefield. At that moment, he does not care that he will be the shame of his family and the traitor of his country---he cannot think more than to be a draft dodger.

As we struggle with our dilemma, we are thrown into conflict with those around us and react according to our own inner voice. “Looking at the familiar objects all around [him]”, Tim whispers farewell and drive north without looking back. The journey is a “pure flight, fast and mindless”. His mind is blurry. He has no plan. He only knows that he must escape in order to shield his moral conscience. Tim heads west along the Rainy River. The river signifies Tim’s life altering choices. The Rainy River “separates Minnesota from Canada, and which for [him] separates one life from another”. As he...

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