When a Man’s Dignity Controls His Life
Future, past, and present friends standing along the shore with shouting enemies and fate. These are some of the images seen by Tim in Tim O’Brien’s “On the Rainy River”. The character has a vivid hallucination that encompasses all of his rivaling thoughts about going to war. The hallucination describes all of the reasons Tim feels embarrassed. He is embarrassed to go to war because he thinks war is somewhat barbaric and below his level of thinking. On the other hand, he will feel like a coward if he runs away from his country when it calls upon him for help. Ultimately, he is embarrassed of his uncontrolled embarrassment that forced him to go to war.
During the hallucination, Tim sees many things that he has loved in his past. “Hot dogs and popcorn, stadium smells, stadium heat. A squad of cheerleaders did cartwheels along the banks of the Rainy River: they had megaphones and pompoms and smooth brown thighs” (page 562). He sees people that he does not want to leave for war, and people he has yet to meet. “My wife was there. My unborn daughter waved at me, and my two sons hopped up and down” (page 562). There are people that he will meet and kill at war, and a future drill sergeant. There is a whole town of people with all eyes on him, pushing him to go to the war.
When Tim is initially notified of his draft, he is scared and angry. “If they need fresh bodies, why not draft some back-to-the-Stone-Age hawk? Or some dumb jingo in his hard hat and Bomb Hanoi button” (page 552). He did not think that well educated men should be sent off to fight and die for something they do not even care about. In his mind, war was for the savages who wanted to fight it, and not for anybody else. Embarrassment is a natural reaction when one is made to do something they feel is unjust. This is why the character does not want to go fight in the war.
“Traitor! they yelled. Turncoat!” (page 562). Tim feels the pressure of a multitude of generations trying to force him to go to war. He feels disgraced at the thoughts he imagines people having about him. He feels like the entire country is depending on him to win the war. How could he not go?
“Embarrassment, that’s all it was. And right then I submitted” (page 562). His embarrassment for thinking he would not go to the war made him submit to the pressure he put on himself. At the time, he thought this would cause him the least amount of humiliation. But ultimately, there was no way around the embarrassment. In the end, he becomes ashamed of the choice he made, and wishes he had made the other.
Regretful and truly ashamed, that is how Tim finds himself. He let his visions become reality and control his actions. He let his dignity force him to fight the war. At the time, he felt better about going to the war, but in the end it was what truly embarrassed him. “I was a coward, I went to the war” (page 563).