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A Soldier’s Moral Dilemma and Overwhelming Sense of Shame


In this chapter, Tim O’Brien describes his own experience prior to the war and the moral dilemma
he faced after receiving his draft notice. He faces the question of whether to fight in a war he doesn’t
support out of shame or to follow his moral standards and flee to Canada.
This chapter largely addresses the theme of moral dilemma and the overwhelming sense of shame
and embarrassment that prompted many soldiers to go to war.


Not to anyone. Not to my parents, not to my brother or sister, not even to my wifeanaphora
provides emphasis
embarrassment, a sudden need to be elsewhere, a confession repeated idea of shame in words
Even now, I’ll admit, the story makes me squirm. reluctant tone, uncomfortable connotation
For more than twenty years I’ve had to live with it, feeling the shame, trying to push it away, and
so by this act of remembrance, by putting the facts down on paper, I’m hoping to relieve at least
some of the pressure on my dreams. he’s been struggling with it for a while, personification
represents guilt
Still, it’s a hard story to tell short sentence, dramatic, shows reluctance/shame


The very facts were shrouded in uncertaintydual meaning of “shroud,” imagery/word
choice, implies obscurity and a subtle reference to death, the only thing he truly knew about the war
was death
Was it a civil war? A war of national liberation or simple aggression? Who started it, and
when, and why? repetitive questions show his inner turmoil, represents how society didn’t really
understand it and yet still supported it
moral confusionhis indecisiveness, ambiguity of the war creates a moral dilemma
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Wait’short, dramatic, implies second thoughts


a disassembly line underlying metaphor for the war, how soldiers are mindlessly sent off for
slaughter, like a conveyor belt or assembly line the death is constant and impersonal
After slaughter the hogs were decapitated, split down the length of the belly, pried open,
eviscerated, and strung up disturbing imagery, imagining the horrors of war, reinforces the idea
that in his mind the war is an atrocity, especially if people don’t understand the reasoning behind it

I’d go home smelling of pig. It wouldn’t go away. symbolism, smell of pig represents his guilt
Even after a hot bath, scrubbing hard the stink was always there-like old bacon  simile, the
thoughts of guilt and underlying confusion begin to grow and ferment
And there was also that draft notice tucked away in my wallet tone, stated as if it is a side
remark, seeming randomness helps to reinforce the idea that he is beginning to panic although it also
helps to relate the pigs to the war
”My life seemed to be collapsing imagery, his life is falling apart, helpless tone
slaughter negative connotation, butchery, pointless death for an unknown cause
felt paralyzed denotation of the inability to move or act, shock
as if (simile) I was hurtling (imagery, inability to stop/slow down, rough) down a huge black
funnel simile to convey his situation, word choice of hurtling and the implication of the inability to
stop, negative connotation of black, imagery of funnel and narrowing options
the whole world squeezing in tight personification, hyperbole, demonstrates extend of societal
fear spreading inside me like weeds simile, negative connotation of weeds, being overwhelmed
by the fear that is hard to get rid of
I imagined myself doing things I could not do word choice of could not, strong language,
physical inability moral dilemma


schizophreniaword choice, represents fragile mental state
I feared the war, I feared exile, I was afraid, I feared, I feared, I feared ridicule and
censureanaphora, provides emphasis on the fear and the shame that he feels is being put on him
by the entire world, the pressures on him and the loss of dignity that would result form him following
his own morality


tightness in my chest as I looked up and watched the far shore come tightness is symbolic of
the pressure, personification of the land implies that O’Brien is being confronted with his choices
Even now, as I write this, I can still feel that tightnessemphasis of the impact
I want you to feel it, You’re at the bow of a boat, You’re twenty-one years old, you’re scared,
and there’s a hard squeezing pressure in your chest. directly addresses the implied audience,
tries to justify himself through age and fear-reinforcing the idea that he was and is ashamed of
What would you do? Would you think about your family and your childhood and your dreams
and all you’re leaving behind? prompts reader to consider what their own actions would have
been, realize the difficulty of the decision he faced


Like some weird sporting event: everybody screaming from the sidelines, rooting me
onsimile, he feels the pressure of having to make a decision, he is being put on the spot by his
 I saw my parents, I saw my brother and sister, all the townsfolk, Abraham Lincoln, Saint
George, Linda, Huck Finn, the last surviving veteran of the American Civil War, a million
ferocious citizens allusions to people who are important to him or have had to make significant
moral decisions, trying to figure out what to do, in a way the people he sees represent the opposing
sides of his conscience as they stand on opposite sides of the river
urging me toward one shore or the other symbolism of the river and its representation of the
moral dilemma
the town, the whole universehyperbole extent of the pressure
 I couldn’t risk the embarrassment repetition of the idea of shame/embarrassment
I felt myself blush reference to blush of dishonor, something all soldiers feared, implies
irreparable embarrassment and disgrace
I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t make myself be brave.anaphora, tone seems
regretful/ashamed, emphasis
It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that’s all it was. contrast, despite the
moral dilemma, his embarrassment overpowered his sense of morality and rightness


“And right then I submitted reversal, tone is subdued/reconciled
I would go to war-I would kill and maybe die-because I was embarrassed not
todirect/simple language, provides dramatic effect, reinforces idea of overpowering shame


”The day was cloudy foreshadows experiences in the war, his emotions of
I survived, but it’s not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to war paradox, two
seemingly contradictory ideas that in reality express a possible truth, he feels guilty for having
betrayed his own morality, for allowing himself to be so influenced by society and the possibility of
shame, ironic how going to war is to be a coward in his mind


panicked tone and switch between speakers (old/young O’Brien)  conveys soldiers youth and
demonstrates the intensity of the moral dilemma that many faced, how unfair it was for boys to be
forced to make that decision

though many soldiers recognized societal ignorance and the fact that many people did not truly
understand the war or its purpose (questions, facts shrouded in uncertainty), soldiers still felt
pressured to go as they feared the blush of dishonor and shame

Ultimately, O’Brien seems to use this chapter to convey the injustice of the war in the fact that the
soldiers were really just boys, and many did not support the war, but instead felt forced into it by
societal expectations and pressures. Although the of panic and shame is repetitive, O’Brien uses this
chapter to really reinforce the idea that many soldiers initially went to the war out of shame and to
create a foundation for this idea so that it can be further developed throughout the novel and
O’Brien’s experiences when he continues to struggle with the morality of his actions and who he is
as a result of the war.