“On the Rainy River” written by William O’Brien is a chapter within his book called
“On the Rainy River” written by William O’Brien is a chapter within his book called, The Things They Carried. This true story entails the author as a young man who has just been drafted for the Vietnam War in the summer of 1968. The story involves O’Brien on a journey of whether he should fight in battle or flee, with the chances of reaching his destination and starting a new life with guilt or facing dreadful war. O’Brien’s use of pathos throughout the story fill the readers with emotion, he shows the importance of courage and willfulness through symbolism, strong tone and first person point of view.
The Rainy River, which separates Minnesota and Canada, symbolizes a new coming of the author and the choice of which life he wants to live. O’Brien has to decide if he wants to take on the harsh, brutal commitment of war, or living a life with fear and regret from the government for not enlisting. In the story, the author describes the separation as two different worlds and is fearful of the both of them. Another use of symbolism is Elroy Berdahl, an old man that takes O’Brien in during his travels along the Rainy River. O’Brien describes Elroy as being “God-like” for simply being there with him in this dark time. Elroy’s presence is related to God because of how he never tells O’Brien the right or wrong choice to make, nor does he judge him for the choices he makes. Elroy let’s O’Brien make the choice of whether he goes to Canada or returns home to fight in war, he is a very mysterious old man but is there when O’Brien needs him and is very symbolic in the story. The writer persistently describes his fear throughout the story and the readers would notice how he is very alone during this time, having to struggle without any real guidance can make the reader feel and visualize what he had to go through.
Though the symbolism in this story reflects O’Brien’s predicament, tone plays a huge role in recognizing the kind of choice O’Brien has to make. The author brings fear in the tone which gives readers anticipation toward what he chooses at the end of the story. O’Brien explains how he is overwhelmed with fear and worries all night about what would happen if he were to get caught and the consequences that follow. In the story he says, “I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t lie still. At night I’d toss around in bed half awake, half dreaming. . . I’d lie there watching weird pictures spin through my head. Getting chased by the border patrol. . .” The tone in this story is based upon the author’s own emotions towards his life decisions. O’Brien’s decision to flee from war was an act of fear, the tone enhances his runaway. In the story he explains how he is not made to fight in war, he’s too smart and too compassionate, “A mistake, maybe a foul-up in the paperwork. I was no soldier. I hated Boy Scouts. . . The thought of blood made me queasy, and I couldn’t tolerate authority. . .” (214). The tone also plays a role in the authors fear and how he would use his courage to eventually overcome it.
The first person point of view gives the author credibility because of his real life experiences throughout his emotional journey to Canada. This gives the readers enough knowledge about his life and the challenges he endured. The author’s narrating gives the readers an insightful voice while describing how his experiences affected his life. With first person narration, the author was able to pour out his internal emotions in the story along with them being personal experiences. O’Brien gives his views on war and relates to all the other young men who were drafted and felt the wave of emotions that went through them. He also believed there was no point in the war, “Certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons” (212). O’Brien makes the plot more interesting by serving as the main perspective in the story and giving the audience true experiences that he went through.