In Speaking of Courage, Norman Bowker shows similarities in many ways to Tim O’Brien in the chapter, On the Rainy River. These chapters illustrate how the two men view courage, and how it applies to themselves. The young soldiers feel as though they have somehow failed, so they find a place to go to where they can just think to themselves about either their future or their past.
Both Bowker and O’Brien want to be brave, but feel like they have failed to do so. It is clear in Speaking of Courage that Norman Bowker wants to impress his dad but the thought that his father won’t be proud of him always lingers in the back of his mind. He constantly tells his dad about all the medals he won, and even lists all of them, then says, “They were for common valor[…] but that was worth something, wasn’t it?” (135) seeking approval. It’s clear to the readers that his dad is proud of him, because whenever Bowker says something negative about himself, his father will respond with something like, “You have seven medals(...) Count ‘em. You weren’t a coward either” (136). Even with responses like this, Bowker continues to think that he could have done better in the war and have been more courageous.
Similar to Bowker, O’Brien “fear[s] losing the respect of [his] parents” (42), but in his case, if he decides not to go to war. Bowker desperately wants to and worries about impressing his family, even though no one had ever told him that they were not impressed. He envisions himself being humiliated by the whole town in the case where he would not serve in the war, but this is what he really wants to do. He does not want to go to war because he knows he is just not that type of person, yet he cannot bring himself to make that decision for himself. He goes to war, and because he chooses to do what everyone else does, and makes the moral decision, he no longer thinks he is brave. O’Brien tells himself that “[he] [is] a coward” (58) because he did what he was told to do and decided to go to war.
Bowker also thinks of himself as cowardly, saying, “I wasn’t very brave” (136) and thinking, “he had not been so brave as he had wanted to be” (147). Both characters reflect on how they could have been brave, but chose not to, and that decision sticks with them.
Tim O’Brien and Norman Bowker find places where they can go to get away from it all, and have time to reflect. O’Brien reflects on his future and the impossible decision he is forced to make by traveling to the Tip Top Lodge, near the Canadian border. Bowker’s place is the road along the lake, where he spends time here looking back on his past in the war.
O’Brien needs to take time to be alone, without the pressures from his family, so he finds this lodge that is isolated from his community. Here he thinks of all the pros and cons of going to war and of doing what he really wants to do and staying away from it.
Just like O’Brien, Bowker finds an isolated place where he can spend all the time he wants to thinking about the war. He drives almost obsessively around the lake over and over again, and spends a majority of his time imagining scenarios where he would be talking with his father about his time in the war. He also imagines telling Sally Kramer about a horrible experience he had while at war. In both these cases, he realizes that no one will ever be able to understand what he went through, but he still feels the need to imagine these scenarios.
Both Tim O’Brien and Norman Bowker feel like they have somehow failed to be brave. Since they view themselves somewhat as cowards, it makes them insecure about how others will view them. They also both feel as though no one back at home would understand the difficulty of their situation, so they have a place to go where they can be away from everyone.
N.d. Photograph. New England History Teacher's Association. NEHTA, 4 Oct. 2013. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.