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Published: 22-09-2019

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“On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien analysis

“On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien completely illustrates the emotional burdens of war, especially the worry and shame felt by numerous men who were forcibly drafted into the Vietnam War. When examining this text using a formalist point of view, by way of the usage of the plot, point of view, and the thoughts and actions of the protagonist, it is clear that a prevalent theme in this short story is the fear of shame.

The worry of shame is a notable theme thinking about it is visible at the very introduction of the story. O’Brien says the story he is about to recount is a single he has never told out of worry of embarrassment and that he hopes that he can ease his shame by putting it into words. (O’Brien) This preface introduces the worry of shame as a dominant theme considering that O’Brien alludes that his goal for writing and narrating this story is to convey a individual, shameful tale and pacify his worry concerning this shame. Considering this introduction expresses that the universal thought that will be explored in this story is the protagonist’s feelings of guilt and fear of embarrassment, it is clear that the fear of shame is certainly a prevalent theme in this story.

Soon after the introduction of the theme in the preface of this story, the fear of shame is additional depicted in O’Brien’s thoughts and feelings. He states that he does not want his loved ones and neighborhood to be ashamed of him and says, “I was ashamed of my conscience, ashamed to be performing the appropriate thing.” This statement showcases that the only factor that was preventing O’Brien from following his conscience and fleeing to Canada was his fear of the embarrassment he may possibly face from the individuals he knew and loved. He does not want to be shamed by those he is close to because he is afraid of being humiliated for his morals that lack courage and patriotism. Consequently, the fear of shame is a crucial theme in this story considering it possesses manage more than O’Brien’s thoughts and point of view.

The relevance of this theme is further exemplified by way of its substantial impact on O’Brien’s subconscious and choice-producing. As he stands twenty yards away from Canadian soil, his thoughts conjures hallucinatory images of essential folks and events in his life. O’Brien states that he could hear them shaming him and says that he, “couldn’t endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule.” This hallucination and O’Brien’s inability to endure humiliation are testaments to the influence of the worry of shame and its pertinence as a theme. This theme is so compelling that O’Brien abandons his morals and goes to war. The protagonist’s guilt and fear of humiliation is far greater than his fear of death considering he is convinced that murder and potential death are greater than getting humiliated. Taking into consideration O’Brien’s fear of embarrassment induces hallucinations and sways him to value his integrity and image more than his personal life and wellbeing, it is palpable the fear of shame is a dominant theme of this story.

When viewing the formal aspects of “On the Rainy River,” it is evident that the fear of shame is a substantial theme throughout the story. Holding authority more than the feelings and subconscious of O’Brien, this theme significantly influences the plot, the protagonist’s point of view and even the author’s purpose for writing this story. The formalist analysis of this text really shines light upon the energy of fear, the danger of pride, and the vulnerability of humans when worry and pride are combined.
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