O'Brien returns home, though, because he cannot bear to think of the town grumbling about his cowardice for not fulfilling his duty, nor can he handle the thought of his family believing him to be a coward. He admits that he goes to the war to avoid the embarrassment that would have resulted from thwarting this legal and social obligation. Similarly, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross in "In The Field" never wanted to be a commander, and only joined the reserves because his friends at college were doing it. Ultimately, O'Brien depicts how his characters did what was expected of them as men and as citizens, but how in reality they are all still so young, are still boys—just kids at war.
Perhaps the most extreme example of this theme of social obligation occurs in "Speaking of Courage," which tells the story of Norman Bowker after the war. Like the other soldiers, Bowker joined the war out of feelings of an obligation to society, and then, once in the war, he felt the pressure from popular culture (such as. the