The Thin Line Between Bravery and Cowardice in the Things They Carried

Essay by billyp933University, Bachelor'sA+, April 2004

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Edwin Hubbel Chapin was once quoted saying, "At the bottom of a good deal of the bravery that appears in the world there lurks a miserable cowardice. Men will face powder and steel because they cannot face public opinion." This belief is held true throughout Tim O'Brien's short story, "The Things They Carried." A story whose setting is placed within the action of the Vietnam War, O'Brien uses extensive imagery in order to describe each soldier's specific physical burdens and in the long run he emphasizes the recurring theme of bravery and the effects of war on individuals. This imagery helps us relate to the characters, and their own personal priorities. O'Brien uses their differences to demonstrate how his theme of bravery and the effects of war are concurrent through every character in the platoon; no matter what they felt they needed to carry to survive. Despite their physical preparation for each and every mission, each soldier went through the same daily routine, "by daylight they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost (O'Brien 1265)."

It is this uncertainty of purpose that allows O'Brien, through his characters, to question the line between bravery and cowardice and ultimately display what the inevitable effects of a pointless war have on the individuals involved.

Referring back to Chapin's quote, O'Brien describes these men as normally brave but sometimes when they are being attacked they become terrified and cry and scream. In this story, bravery can be seen intertwined with cowardice. Although the men want to appear brave in front of their friends, they are actually terrified. This gives us the impression that they are not sure what bravery is or are...