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The Rainy River questions and answers Essay

1. I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed this story. Not only did it give some fascinating insight into the mind of a man forced to go to war, but he explained his argument with such eloquence and passion that I found myself thoroughly intrigued. The way he describes having to face the draft and the terrifying obstacles that seemed to crop up out of nowhere, really makes me think and try to put myself in his position. I would not know what to do with myself, honestly, it’s such a complicated moral dilemma, choosing between your own best interests and upholding your patriotic expectation to stand up for your country.

I found this story to be really moving and I actually read through it a few times; it’s something I will not forget anytime soon. I recall reading O’Brien’s work before, The Things They Carried, but this really hit home for me; I had a whole new outlook on situations like that; I guess I was ignorant to the reality of it all before. I think the language choice throughout is part of why I felt it so touching, O’Brien is able to connect with his reader through sophisticated vocabulary, which is an author’s most powerful tool to utilize in my opinion.

2. Why did the narrator not want to go to war?

This is a very broad question, and the narrator’s reasoning was deep; why should he, or America as a whole for that matter, put himself in harms way to help those who do not want help? I believe the author feels like America is meddling in places they it does not belong, and that is one of his major problems with this war. He says he would be all for sacrificing himself for something “as glorious as overthrowing Hitler” (Imprints, pg. 145), but he feels it is not their place to get involved in this war. Lastly, the narrator is very intelligent, as he mentions his graduating Macalester College, and possibly pursuing Harvard as graduate school; he feels he has more sophisticated tasks in life that suit his intellectual level.

3. What did the following symbols represent in the story?

Meat packing plant- The meatpacking plant, and O’Brien’s job description specifically, was described in graphic detail for a reason. The plant was a symbol for the inevitable war he must face; it anticipates the experience of fighting in Vietnam by emphasizing the gruesome details of declotting the pigs. Canada- Canada represents freedom in the story. This is clear because outside of the US the “draft dodgers” are out of the grasp of the law. Canada played no part in the Vietnam War and therefore the young men who refused to fight were safe there. Rainy River- The rainy river is the bridge to the safe haven that is Canada. The final obstacle standing in the way of his freedom, but his freedom is a double standard for his cowardice. Coincidentally this is where O’Brien has his change of heart, once he gets so close, he can’t follow through.

Elroy- Elroy is his saviour, as he puts it. The old man does not scold, or even pry for answers from O’Brien, but is wise with age and very smart with his words. He doesn’t have to say anything at all to get his point across. He saves O’Brien from having to run for the rest of his life, but in doing so he gives him the option to allow him to make the right decision. I think Elroy represented the symbol to do the right thing. War- War represents the problem that springs up in O’Brien’s life when everything is going right, and the thing that will quite possibly end it, which is terrifying. When he thinks of the war he thinks of dying without a cause which is not honorable because his life means so much more to him than that.

4. What would I do?

This is such a complicated question. I honestly believe that I would jump into the water, swimming to my new life as an outcast. No, this is not because I am a coward. This is not because I do not stand up for or love my country, because I do. I truly believe in the circumstances O’Brien was in, and the war he was faced with I would have done “the unspeakable” and put myself first. My grandfather told me all about one of the world wars and how his father was a prisoner of war who escaped. I live with my grandfather, and I consider him the smartest and most experienced man I know, so this really touched me. I could hear the pain in his voice as he explained it to me. and he told me his father never once talked about the war, or how he escaped, not to anyone. It makes me realize how dark the wars really were.

My grandfather explained to me that they always recruited and advertised by broadcasting the image of some glorious endeavour, but he says it was never really like that. War is dark and unimaginable. I can relate to why O’Brien didn’t want to go. To have to watch your friends die, be constantly terrified and miss your woman, your family, and everything you’ve ever known back home sounds terrible. Call me a coward, but for the Vietnam War I would have done the same. I can see why pursuing your dreams to carry out post secondary education would be a lot more sensible than going off and fighting someone else’s war. Please forgive me as I know my response is close-minded and opinionated, but I must be honest when I say I would choose the coward’s way out in this specific circumstance.


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