Self and the Changing World

Analytical Essay:

There comes a time in everyone’s life when there are decisions that have to be made. For some deciding whether or not to do certain things can be a difficult and grueling process. Sometimes decision are only minor while other times that can be extremely difficult and even life altering. Decisions like not going to the college or not standing up for what you believe in put up a large amount of pressure on people to make the decisions. People tend to take on and act out certain roles according to the expectations placed upon them by the culture they come from. As a result, they let the fear of societal expectation rule them, which turns them into cowards in the face of big changes or decisions.

Tim O’Brien, in The Things They Carried, described his experience in Vietnam as a soldier. At the age of 21, he was drafted to fight in a war that he had always hated. In the book, O’Brien described himself as young and politically naive. He also talked about how he viewed the American war in Vietnam as nefarious. At the end of “On the Rainy River”, he describes his feelings after returning from the war, “I survived, but it is not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war.” (The Things They Carried Pg. 61) This basically finalizes the chapter and it is a very vital quote to the book because it has an ironic meaning. Usually, those who go to the war are considered to be heroes; brave men who fight for their country. Meanwhile, those who run from difficult tasks are often associated with cowardice. Tim O’Brien recalls himself, in this quote, as ‘a coward’ for going in the first place. He was cowardly for fighting. He wasn’t capable of escaping and leaving something he didn’t believe in behind. He wasn’t capable of standing up for his beliefs and his conscience. Instead, he let shame, fear, and society win over his beliefs. Looking from a different angle, this quote shows a different meaning of bravery as well, where it’s not about how much one can fight against the enemy, but how much strength and courage they have for following their dreams and going against the fear of embarrassment. The society, the fear of embarrassment pressured him to go the war which he always hated.

The author of this book discusses the similar problems that every soldier faced. “They did not submit to the obvious alternative, which was simply to close the eyes and fall.. It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards.” (The Things They Carried Pg. 21) This quote not only emphasizes the ‘soldier’ experience but also the experience of every person as a human being. Tim O’Brien used this quote to describe how it is inevitable to live within a society that constructs expectations for certain roles that humans must fill, regardless of their choices. The soldiers in general feared and their instinct to run had to be restrained due to the fear of being made fun by friends and being called a coward. They all carried that burden. “It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory, or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor” (The Things They Carried Pg. 21) The war changed them and forced them to do certain things that they wouldn’t basically do because they were ashamed. But in the end, they sort of embraced their reputations, which become more important than the life itself. They would do anything to avoid the dishonor and trampled their own hopes and dreams.  

Tim O’Brien, the author of the book gave an interview to the Mars Hill Review where he talked about creating a fictional story based on true facts and his harrowing over the fear of embarrassment. “So I made up the Rainy River story-going to the Canadian border, agonizing over whether to go across it or not-because it's a way of getting at a truth that's in my heart but that isn't in the actual world. It's the truth of a real dilemma: “What should I do? I'm caught up in this terrible bind. I hate the war and I shouldn't go to it. But at the same time I love my country, and I'm terrified of the embarrassment if I don't go. So, what should I do?" (O’Brien Article #2) Tim O’Brien had to live up to social expectations where he had to follow their plans for him without regard to who he was, what he wanted, or that dying fire inside of him that used to be a spirit. But unfortunately everything turned in the opposite direction. The individuality he once possessed was stripped from him by the time he reached an age where the society was confident in turning him into something different. Furthermore he added,“My conscience kept telling me not to go, but my whole upbringing told me I had to.” (O’Brien Article #1) He was afraid that if he didn’t follow the ‘rules’ then he might somehow be a loser or even an outcast.

Many Soldiers like Tim O’Brien might have faced the similar problem where they had to be coward, adopt the social norms and tailor their behavior to meet certain expectations. They were afraid of being ostracized from the community. They didn’t live up to their expectations. As a result, they decided to change themselves fundamentally for social expectations that they didn’t believe, they eliminated any little possibility of self-esteem or happiness.


Works Cited for Analytical Essay:

"Social Roles and Social Norms | Simply Psychology." Social Roles and Social Norms | Simply Psychology. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2015. <http://www.simplypsychology.org/social-roles.html>.


O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway, 1998. Print.


Sawyer, Scott. "An Interview with Tim O'Brien." In the Name of Love. Mars Hill Review 4, n.d. Web. 8 Jan. 2015. <http://www.leaderu.com/marshill/mhr04/tim1.html


"SOCIAL BEHAVIOR, EXPECTATIONS." SOCIAL BEHAVIOR, EXPECTATIONS. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2015. <https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DPF.CHAP18.HTM>.


Narrative Essay:

When I first made the announcement they didn’t say anything, and this raised my hopes. But then, just as I turned onto my side to stretch out and sleep. Dad got up, grabbed me by the arm, and pushed me out of the room. “You are not welcome back until you have gone to the school,” he said coldly. I stood there and stared at the door. Then, before the cold floor could freeze my feet, I heard someone outside. Opening the door, I saw that it was my uncle’s friend, whom my dad hired sometimes on the coldest days to give me a ride to the school. Feeling resigned, I grabbed my book bag and rushed towards the car. As we rode to the school, I began to think of a million other things I’d rather be doing. I could sit and play card games with friends. I could go and swim near the lush green fields, or watch Indian movies, or drink glasses of sugarcane juice spiced with ginger and lemon or get a case of mangoes. What I didn’t want to do was to sit in the classroom in the stale sleepiness of early morning to the late afternoon. Nor did I want to sit there for long lectures. I missed the old life I had before. The days of playing cricket with friends, dreaming of becoming a fighter. The afternoon when I would go outside and make a fort and call myself Saladin the Liberator, spilling oil onto the Crusaders’ armies, withstanding a siege by Richard the Lionheart, and doing diplomacy with him during which I impressed him with my warrior prowess by throwing a piece of cloth in the air and then cutting it in two perfect halves with my sword. I wanted to live in my imagination - not as a spindly-legged spider in the cryptograms of Math or any other subject. Within half an hour we got to the school. I got out of the car and waved back to him until he disappeared. I decided to ditch again and took the local bus and came back.

When I got home the power was out, as was often the case midday, and so the heat was off and everyone was just in a bad mood. Dad sat on the couch staring at the window while Mama was upstairs. He had just finished eating mangoes; a tray of emptied plate sat near him. A cup filled with lassi, a yogurt drink, sat in front of the table. The fact he had eaten mangoes without me made me think he was decadent, and that made me even more upset. He looked up, surprised to see me at home when I should have been in school.

“I’m not going to the school!!,” I announced, trying to sound even more this time. “If you make me go, I’ll run away to Lahore. I have learned where the bus leaves.” I sat down and began drinking the leftover lassi. Even though it was warm and salty, it felt really good going down. I felt in charge. When I’d finished and had burped loudly, a slap the back of my head and sent me hurtling toward the door. “I told you,” He said. “You cannot come home until you’ve been to the school.” He wasn’t messing around this time though. Normally I would have cried a little bit and made a scene and ended up in grandmother’s arms, but this wasn’t the time for empathy. I had to up the ante.

“Well, that seals the deal.” I said, standing up. “I’m going to run away from home. I’m going to take the bus that goes to Lahore. Then I’m going to start doing the child labor. That means you will never see me again. This is what you reap for sending me to the school. Khuda Hafiz.” I added in farewell. My Mom listened to everything, she hurled the bedroom door and came down. “Come on, Huzaifah. There is no such reason to run away. Just be a good boy and go the school. No deal.”

Dad stayed quiet for a while. Then he spoke up rigidly; “All right. Run away, then. We won’t stop you.”
“You don’t believe me do you? All right. Forget running away. Instead of getting in the bus, I’ll just let it run me over. Do you still want me to go to the school?
“Yes” He said. “Do it.”
“You don’t care if I die?” I shouted. “Fine! I’ll just kill myself right here, in this house. So that my blood is on your hands. I’m going to suffocate myself in the bathroom.” I went to the bathroom and slammed the door. Turned on the hot water so the steam would vaporize . Thinking that if the door stayed closed from some time I would run out of air. While inside I realized that the bathroom had a big window that was always open, so the chances of suffocation were low. I also realized that going back outside to retrieve a tool with which to kill myself would take the fire out of my revolt. “This bathroom will be my grave!” I shouted in a last-ditch effort. Much to my satisfaction, I heard mom right outside the door. “No, my son” She urged. “Don’t do such thing!”

“You know what? Why should I wait till I’m suffocated to die? I’ll just drink this shampoo here and make it quick.” Just to show I was serious I spilled some of it underneath the door. Now mama banged on the door loudly. “I know I’m a horrible mother, but even horrible mothers don’t deserve to lose their children. Come out of there, my son!” There was a complete silence of about 1 minute and then I decided to come out. My Mom’s words hit me hard. Soon I began to realize the fact that I’m her only precious son so there is no point of doing such stupid act. I had to avoid the blush of honor and show the world that I’m brave enough to do anything. It was also a fear of embarrassment because students in my age group had really good grades and their parents were proud of them as well. I wanted to the same thing, I wanted to my make my parents proud so I promised with myself to go the school regularly.


Comments (3)

Jesse Shuter (Student 2016)
Jesse Shuter
  1. The opening paragraph was very interesting and made a very interesting claim. It talked about a topic that I had not previously read and did so in a very articulate way.
  2. I learned a lot more about Huzaifah's life, where he grew up and his personality as a kid and it was very interesting.
  3. I liked the language that you used.
Jacklyn Middleswarth (Student 2016)
Jacklyn Middleswarth

I really like your essay, what really grabbed my attention is the fact that you connect the social norms to bravery going to the war. I especially like the first paragraph where you show an opposite expression of what bravery should be.

Malwina Dymek (Student 2016)
Malwina Dymek

I learned from you essay that even though going to school was something you would not want to do, you decided at the end that you will prove and make you parents proud of you.