Only 3rd Platoon, Company A, their fates, and the

after the pages introducing the members of the 3rd Platoon, Company A, their
fates, and the lurid tragedies of war, does Tim O’Brien reveal his motives for
going off to fight. In the chapter “On the Rainy River,” O’Brien uses a first
person point of view, carefully selected details, and a tone of confliction and
shame to convey his own war with himself upon being drafted to the most
controversial war in American history: Vietnam.

            O’Brien begins the chapter by
prefacing the reader—he calls it a “confession,” for which he still feels
“embarrassment.” He remarks on how “even now… the story makes him squirm”
(O’Brien 39). Because the meek and shameful introduction expands upon O’Brien’s
thoughts and feelings, he successfully gains sympathy from his readers, even
before he begins telling his story at all. The fact that this recollection is
told from his perspective allows his audience to truly grasp not only the war
in Vietnam, but the war O’Brien wages within himself.

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O’Brien dives into his personal narrative by recalling
the cloudy day when he receives his draft notice, followed by his immediate
antagonism, and then, ultimately, the beginning of his internal battle.
Paralyzed by fear, O’Brien quietly wages war within his own head as “there was
no happy way out” of the war for which he is commissioned to fight; either he can
fly over to Vietnam and fight in the combat that he wants no part of, or he can
flee to Canada, never to return to the United States or his family again (O’Brien
43). Fear, the great motivator, pulls O’Brien in both directions, simply
because he “does not want to die. Not ever. But certainly not then, not
there, not in a wrong war,” and fleeing to Canada would convince the people who
know him that he is “a treasonous pussy” (O’Brien 44-45). Using a tone of
confliction successfully conveys the guilt that O’Brien will feel if he evades
the draft, as opposed to the guilt he will feel for committing atrocities
against humankind in Vietnam. It isn’t until O’Brien cracks from his anxiety that
he subconsciously decides to get into his car and drive north to Canada.

            Once O’Brien successfully conveys
his moral dilemma, he further expands upon his own confusion when he introduces
Elroy Berdahl into the story. O’Brien reminisces about the time he and Berdahl
spent “eating most of their meals together… going out on long hikes into
the woods, and at night playing Scrabble or listening to records” (O’Brien
49). By including these seemingly inconsequential details, O’Brien insinuates
that Berdahl becomes a father figure. Berdahl captivates O’Brien, most likely
because he is everything O’Brien is not: calm, self-possessed, and at peace.
Everything from Elroy’s noticing of “an owl circling over the violet-lighted
forest” to the way he looks at O’Brien “for a long time, his lips drawn as if
in framing a difficult question” suggests that Berdahl is intellectual, insightful,
and spiritual (O’Brien 50-51). Because of O’Brien’s ostensibly excessive
details when recalling his visit to Tip Top Lodge, he magnificently
characterizes Berdahl as his guide—not only through the woods of Minnesota and the
waters of the Rainy River, but through the jungles of Vietnam.

            The internal conflict O’Brien
experiences is best conveyed when Berdahl takes O’Brien out onto the Rainy
River and “into Canadian waters, across that dotted line between two different
worlds” (O’Brien 55). Berdahl cuts the engine right between the United States
and Canada—right in the center of O’Brien’s inner conflict. Concurring with O’Brien’s
spiritual characterization of him, Berdahl pretends not to notice O’Brien
staring intently at the Canadian shoreline. When he is finally overcome by the
pressures and strains that he has felt all summer, O’Brien begins to weep as
Berdahl pretends not to notice. Through his tears, O’Brien tells himself that he
will run to Canada, but silently concludes that he will go to war simply because
he is embarrassed not to. O’Brien’s inclusion of his unannounced excursion to
the Candian border by boat, Berdahl’s apparent disinterest with his tears, and
his ultimate decision to go to Vietnam only further exemplifies the struggle
O’Brien feels all through the summer of 1968 when he has the arduous task of
determining his lifelong fate.

            While O’Brien struggles with his
decision throughout the rest of his life, he eloquently conveys his dilemma to
his audience. His exploration in the shame and guilt that tarries with the
soldiers, the draftees, and the country “back home,” only deepens his
audiences’ own conundrum when trying to decide if they are, in fact, for his
decision, or against it.

Because the chapter is told through the voice, mind,
and heart of O’Brien, he is able to make a statement on the confusion that he
and other soldiers experience. Between the demands and expectations for a
soldier, and the demands of a soldier’s own values, moralities, and
philosophies, O’Brien successfully illustrates how, for many soldiers—including
himself—the war in Vietnam began long before guns and napalm were used.

“On the Rainy River” is written with a tone of shame
and confusion which influences his audience to sympathize with him. O’Brien
effectively conveys to his readers the indecisiveness and torture soldiers went
through upon being drafted. By telling his story with echoes of shame and
guilt, readers themselves can feel the burden that O’Brien felt on that cloudy
day when he first received his draft notice.

O’Brien’s selection of details not only convey the
moral dilemma soldiers experienced, but also aid in the characterization of
Elroy Berdahl. O’Brien writes Berdahl to be insightful and astute creating the image
of a man who, rather than prodding O’Brien’s mindset invasively, merely acts as
a mirror, reflecting to O’Brien the necessity of making a choice.

The torturous months leading up to his eventual escape
attempt, the introspective days at Tip Top Lodge, and the ultimate decision to
go to war while on a boat upon the Rainy River are all clearly conveyed through
O’Brien’s use of rhetoric, for they plainly reveal the moral quandary he faced
when receiving his draft notice. By using a conflicted tone to tell his story,
carefully selecting details that allow his audience to truly experience what he
experienced, and recalling everything from his own point of view, O’Brien
efficaciously compels his audience, not only to sympathize with him, but to
examine themselves—to ponder what they would do, had they been drafted: “Would
you feel pity for yourself? Would you think about your family and your
childhood and your dreams and all you’re leaving behind? Would it hurt? Would
it feel like dying? Would you cry, as I did?”