Clio Fleece – The Yellow Birds – Q3 Benchmark

Analytical Essay:

Everyone goes through important changes and phases in their lives, whether it be someone very close to them passing away, winning the lottery, or finding “the one”.  All of these things can cause a change in one’s character that greatly affects their view of the world.  In Kevin Powers’s novel The Yellow Birds, the main character, Bartle, goes through one of the most life-changing experiences possible: fighting in a war.  During his service in Afghanistan, he sees himself and many others change in many ways. Many people, when going through or having gone through a big change in their life, may feel like the whole world has changed because their world has changed.

At one point in Bartle’s time abroad, he goes AWOL in Germany, when the troops are waiting to fly back to America.  While he’s away from the base, he goes into a church and has some time alone with his thoughts.  When remembering this moment, he says, “I realized, as I stood there in the church, that there was a sharp distinction between what was remembered, what was told , and what was true. And I didn’t think I’d ever figure out which was which,” (Powers 60).  This is an interesting way of thinking of the human memory, because often times, those three things are seen as the same thing.  Bartle, as he remembers certain events in the war and is talking to the priest in the church, realizes that his mind wants to remember things differently than how they happened.  After he had these traumatic experiences, his view of the world was changed, although he didn’t notice at the time. His changed perspective caused him to believe that things had happened differently than they actually had.

Kevin Powers, when talking in an interview about life in combat compared with civilian life, said, "As human beings, we have the blessing and the curse that we're able to adapt to almost anything. No matter how extreme the circumstances you're in, they become normal,” (Sherr).  The Yellow Birds is written in a way such that one chapter Bartle will be fighting in Al Tafar, Afghanistan, and the next chapter he will be back home in Richmond, Virginia after the war.  The way the book jumps around like this, the reader can see a clearer comparison between his experiences in the war and how they affected him once he was back home.  This quote says that “no matter how extreme the circumstances you’re in, they become normal” (Sherr), meaning that even when Bartle was fighting in Afghanistan, at some point he became so used to it that he felt like that was normal.  The reader notices this once Bartle is back home in Richmond, because he goes out and shoots his gun at the ground to relax; the fact that this action is relaxing instead of stressful or exciting means that he is used to it, and that he believes it is normal in the world he is living in.

When Bartle is back in America and reflecting on his current life, he talks about whether he thinks he and his life are normal.  During this reflection, he says, “The details of the world in which we live are always secondary to the fact that we must live in them,” (Powers 224).  What this means is that humans can never have experiences in life or views of their world without either of those being affected by their own thoughts and feelings.  Bartle is acknowledging this, by saying that even though he feels like his life is normal, he knows that this is partially because of his past experiences and feelings.  If he was completely separated from his past, his thoughts, and his feelings, he would see that this is not normal behavior.  However, there is no way for him to perceive his world outside of his own mind.

Many people who have never fought in a war may feel like there is no way in which they can connect to a soldier.  While it is true that a soldier’s experience is incredibly different from a civilian’s, the fact that a life-changing moment or period in one’s life can change his or her perception of the world is something that applies to everyone.  Whether someone is a civilian who has just had a child, or a soldier who has just lost a close friend in combat, both situations will greatly affect a person.  This is a uniting factor between two different groups of people that should be remembered when civilians connect with soldiers.

Works Cited for Analytical Essay:

Powers, Kevin. The Yellow Birds. New York: Little, Brown, 2012. Print.

Sherr, Lynn. "A Soldier's Story: Returning Home From Iraq." Parade's Community Table.

Parade Publications Inc., 21 Oct. 2012. Web. 08 Jan. 2015.


Narrative Essay:

Ugh, I hate everyone.  Why is everyone so annoying?  Wait...are they talking about me right now?

These are just average thoughts I have had sitting in class, on the bus, or pretty much anywhere when I have gone through more depressed periods in my life.  We all have these types of thoughts every now and then, but they were an almost constant occurrence in my head.  Someone walking in front of me would do something mildly annoying and I would berate them in my head, my mood having been ruined by them during the rest of my walk to school.  This negative attitude towards even strangers is just an example of how I viewed the world in this part of my life: annoying, boring, and joyless.

One way in which my perspective on the world and my life was changed is that I became much more paranoid about my friends or people at school talking about me.  It wasn’t because I thought I was so important, I just thought people were talking behind my back, when I left the room or walked down the hall past them.  A few times, I got so worried about it that I actually would ask one friend if another had said anything about me, or if they thought someone didn’t like me.  Always, the answer was something like, “No, why would you think that?” or “No, why would they be talking about you?” and whoever I was asking would look at me funny.  I’m sure that at least once, the person I was asking about found out I had been asking about them, and it probably annoyed them or made them uncomfortable.  At the time, I never thought about that, but now that I am outside of my depressive state of mind, it seems clear that that must have happened.

Another big affect of my depression was boredom and indifference towards the world around me.  Often times, I just wouldn’t bother to make any plans over the weekend, and because I had no plans, I would start on this train of thought that I didn’t have any plans because no one wanted to hang out with me, when in reality it was just because I didn’t ask anyone.  This would cause me to just sit at home all weekend, incredibly bored and often unhappy.  My parents would suggest all sorts of things to do, and to each option I’d say that I “didn’t feel like it” or I would just say no.  At the time, I really didn’t have any interest in any of the things they were suggesting; I would even think to myself, “Why don’t I want to do anything?  All of those things seem so boring.”  At that point in time, I saw the world as very boring, with nothing exciting going on in it.  Again, thinking back, most of the things my parents suggested were pretty interesting, but that just isn’t how I viewed my world.  

Possibly the worst affect my depressed state of mind had on myself and my life was the actual change in my personality.  I was much more negative and rude or mean towards both my parents, my friends, and my boyfriend.  I believed I was behaving normally, but at one point or another, all of the people in my life confronted me about my behavior, and in some cases it was too late to fix the damage I had done without even realizing it.  Even in the cases where my apologies were accepted, I still felt terribly guilty about the feelings I had hurt and the anger and frustration I had caused.  This would send me even deeper into depression.  Once again, in these situations I had believed that I was behaving like my normal self, even though it was obvious later on that I hadn’t been.

While I will likely never be able to fully relate to the life and experiences of a soldier, I feel that the factor of a distorted reality can apply to both people like me and people from the army.  Like Bartle, I believed that my abnormal behavior was nothing out of the ordinary, even though to others the change was obvious.  The effects of my depression included ruined relationships, lost time, and inaccurate world views.  The effects of Bartle’s return and assimilation back into civilian life were changed relationships, time wasted being angry and depressive, and a distorted view of the world.  This is perhaps the only connection I can make between myself and the character of Bartle.  But it is a strong connection, and a thought-provoking one; a connection that will stay with me as I continue to learn how to connect with others who are different from me.