“On the Rainy River” by T. O’Brien and “The Red Convertible” by L. Erdrich

The definition of courage, which is not an effortless task, has been one of the earth-shattering activities of humans from time immemorial and the literary figures have attempted to give a meaningful conclusions about the various aspects of the concept through their writing over the centuries. Two of the most valuable literary creations that deal with some of the crucial aspects of courage have been the short stories “On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien and ‘The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich. These short stories attempt to define the concept of courage in the background of the Vietnam War which is a crucial point of the lives of the Americans to understand the meaning of the concept.

Apparently dealing with the coward nature of the protagonists, the stories in reality make some pertinent contributions to the definition of courage. The concept of courage which is commonly defined as the outlook of facing and handling some situation acknowledged as hazardous, complicated or throbbing instead of departing from it, has various aspects which also demands moral power to withdraw from situations that would otherwise result in the acceptance of the situations against the aspiration of one’s true conscience. Thus, it is essential to define courage as moral courage which is important in “doing what is considered to be right. Instead of physical harm one would face potential shame or scandal based on the circumstances and actions taken.” (Welsh). The short stories “On the Rainy River” and ‘The Red Convertible” deal with similar type of courage in the background of the Vietnam War.

In the short story “On the Rainy River” which deals with a young adult who was recruited to fight in the Vietnam War, one may tend to define the protagonist’s action of the protagonist in fleeing to Canada to evade the war which he does not believe in terms of cowardice. However, a true understanding of the background of the war and the theme of embarrassment in war would prompt one to define courage as the essential act of avoidance of situations on the basis of moral courage too stick on to one’s convictions. It is essential to comprehend that the war twists moral structures and makes it impossible to take a morally clear course of action putting people in a Catch-22 situation in which the problem’s only solution is impossible because of some characteristic of the problem.

Thus, one finds O’Brien trapped in a catch-22 as the only way for him to avoid guilt is by taking a course of action that will make him feel guilty and it is in this choice that the real meaning of courage is realized. “If he goes to war, he will feel guilty for ignoring his own objection to United States involvement in Vietnam, but the only way to avoid this guilt involves incurring the disapproval of his community—which will cause him to feel guilt and shame.” (O’Brien). Thus, the action of the protagonist in accepting the disapproval of his community for the valiant effort to stick on to one’s convictions defines the true meaning of courage. O’Brien’s narrative justifies and explains his decision to the readers by putting them in the position of ethical judges of his actions and demonstrates the power of war to transform an individual by offering the scope for the true acceptance of courage.

Similarly, Louise Erdrich attempts to provide a meaningful conclusion of the courage through his story “The Red Convertible.” The story that deals with two brothers beleaguered to manage their changing relationship and the transforming world demonstrates the essence of courage. It is by demonstrating the complexities faced by Vietnam veterans and their families in dealing with the situation after the Vietnam War that the story defines courage. “In fact, Lyman’s actions, although futile, gives us an important theme: It is not always possible to heal someone damaged by war no matter how hard we try, and as Erdrich makes clear in the final paragraph: ‘It is all finally dark.’” (Brad’s Teacher Writing: A First Reaction to “The Red Convertible”). The protagonist’s attempt to deal with this specific situation of the transforming events of the war defines his courage. Therefore, it is the moral courage to face the demands of a person’s conviction in the background of most unfavorable situations that defines the real essence of courage. The apparently simple story of the adventures the two brothers who are fairly typical in buying a car together, taking a road trip etc, “The Red Convertible” is an important story that defines the real essence of courage and it is similar to the story “On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien in dealing with the various aspects of the concept courage.

Work Cited

Brad’s Teacher Writing: A First Reaction to “The Red Convertible”. Pearson Adult Learning Centre. 2006. Web.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things they Carried: “On the Rainy River”. Sparknotes. 2006. Web.

Welsh, Col. Bill. A Definition of Courage.116th Air Control Wing. 2006. Web.

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