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Analyzing the Chapters "speaking of Courage" and "notes" in the Things They Carried

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        In the chapters “Speaking of Courage” and “Notes”, Tim O’Brien primarily discusses the life of Norman Bowker following the Vietnam War. O’Brien describes how Bowker is unable to escape memories of the war and the death of his Kiowa, believing he is to blame for his comrade’s death. In the latter of the two chapters, O’Brien reveals that he is actually to blame for Kiowa’s death, adding to the prevalent motif truth and storytelling.

        The purpose of “Notes” is to reveal that O’Brien, not Norman Bowker, is at fault for Kiowa’s death. In the chapter, Tim writes, “Norman did not experience a failure of nerve that night. He did not freeze up or lose the Silver Star for valor. That part of the story is my own” (154). Throughout these two chapters, O’Brien leads the audience to believe that Norman is to blame for the death of Kiowa. However, in this excerpt, it becomes clear that it was not Norman who left Kiowa in the field, but instead Tim. He states that it is his own cowardice, his own failure of nerve that causes the death of Kiowa. Because the guilt of leaving a fellow soldier behind to die is overwhelming, O’Brien copes with this crushing emotion by creating Norman Bowker who could take the fall for him. O’Brien writes about Norman to distance himself from Kiowa’s death and to alleviate the overpowering sense of cowardice he likely feels. These conflicting descriptions of Kiowa’s death add to the motif of emotional truth versus the happening truth. O’Brien greatly blurs the line separating fact and fiction within these two chapters. He creates an entire background for his character Norman, discussing in depth the amount of guilt he holds on to from the war, but later explains that he was truly the one who let Kiowa die. Although in the chapter “Speaking of Courage” he does not accurately depict the scene in the field, the reader is still able to understand the emotional truth of the situation. One realizes the mental damage war brings and the harsh toll it takes on a soldier.

        These two chapters uncover the distinction between happening and emotional truth. Although O’Brien writes the chapters as though Norman–rather than he himself–kills Kiowa, the audience can still understand the guilt and feeling of immorality accompanying war and abandonment.

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