Introduction: Tim O'Brien wrote the short story collection: The Things They Carried, approximately 20 years after his experiences at the Vietnam War. His collection of Vietnam War stories stood out for me because O'Brien is more interested in subverting the status quo of traditional Vietnam stories, so it isn't just a typical shoot'em up collection. I also liked O'Brien's intimate describing of his experiences, and how his stories all have interesting elements to them because he was a soldier of the Vietnam War. We read about his stories in first person, which makes it appear simple on the surface, yet it still contains complex and structured ideas. These ideas derived from O'Brien's own encounters with the chaotic struggle he faced in Vietnam. From O'Brien's collection, I chose The Things They Carried, On The Rainy
River, The Dentist, and Enemies And Friends. I chose these because they all revolve around a similar idea: Conflict . Although these stories obviously contain physical conflict, it is the internal and external conflict that O'Brien is attempting to display. Whether this is the conflict of morals seen in On The Rainy
River or the struggle to retain sanity displayed in The things They Carried, O'Brien is suggesting to society that war is destructive, both physically and, more importantly, psychologically. O'Brien is asking society why do we send young men to their deaths? And are we, as a cultured and sophisticated society benefiting from exploiting the young to do our dirty work? (1)
Conflict corrupts our morality: Our morality is something that we hope to be universal: right and wrong, good and bad. But when put into a position that is out of our control, these morals that we value so highly, vanish. The division line between what we think is right and wrong, good and bad, dramatically shifts, and alters our beloved morals. For many, the Vietnam War had blurred what they have been taught about social orders. Vietnam forced soldiers to act in ways that were morally unjust. The ones that went there to spread their ideals ended up being warped and destructive. Enemies and Friends is Tim
O'Brien's explanation to society proving how chaotic settings deform people's social codes. Two, once ordinary men, who are supposed to be fighting the 'enemy', act violently towards each other over a missing jack knife. This fight results in Dave Jensen becoming incredibly frightened of Lee Strunk, as
Lee had won the fight. The extreme conditions of war caused these men to disregard the distinction between Enemy and Friend. We see how fast Dave and Lee's principles disappear in this distant and disorderly world, where they can make the rules. As O'Brien identified, that "in any other circumstance it might 've ended there. But this was Vietnam". We, as readers, can clearly see how this fight is a microcosm of the conflict surrounding them. The macrocosm, war, is clearly creating many opportunities for naive men just like Lee and Dave to destroy their morals and lash out on their friends and teammates. Many ended up confused as "the distinction between good guys and bad guys disappeared”. As a society, we picture these heroic figures that are united in fighting a common enemy.
Yet, O'Brien purposely subverts the genre of ironic war stories to display the truth in war. Similarly, we see in The Dentist how this external conflict creates immense internal conflict. O'Brien displays this through Curt Lemon, who "had a tendency to play the tough soldier role" Curt loved to be seen as the best the toughest; the strongest. When he faints from fright at a routine dentist check, everything he is driven by is destroyed. He seeks redemption, which comes by him demanding to have one of his perfectly normal teeth pulled out. The embarrassment and surrounding destruction had "turned a screw in his head" resulting in him transforming into something many didn't respect. O'Brien saw how Curt had disregarded his morals for what