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The short story, On the Rainy River by Tim O’Brien demonstrates how one may discover the person deep inside themselves. The author reveals the protagonist’s insecurities and doubts about his own life after he receives his draft letter. by Mind Map: The short story, On the Rainy River by Tim O’Brien demonstrates how one may discover the person deep inside themselves. The author reveals the protagonist’s insecurities and doubts about his own life after he receives his draft letter.
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The short story, On the Rainy River by Tim O’Brien demonstrates how one may discover the person deep inside themselves. The author reveals the protagonist’s insecurities and doubts about his own life after he receives his draft letter.

Significant Passages

“...I was drafted to fight a war I hated. I was twenty-one years old. Young, yes, and politically naïve, but even so the American war in Vietnam seemed to me wrong. Certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons. I saw no unity of purpose, no consensus on matters of philosophy or history or law.” (pg. 71)

“I was too good for this war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything. It couldn’t happen. I was above it.” (pg. 72)

“it was kind of a schizophrenia. A moral split. I couldn’t make up my mind. I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile. I was afraid of walking away from my own life, my friends and my family, my whole history, everything that mattered to me…” (pg. 74)


The conflict in this short story is that when Tim got the draft letter he didn’t want to go into war and that he was stuck with the decision of going to war or running away to Canada and being judged by his family and his town for his actions. O’Brien’s struggle to contemplate what to do in that situation leading him to Tip Top Lodge where he had stayed for a couple days.

Point Of View

The perspective comes from Tim O’Brien who was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. The purpose of having a viewpoint from the first person gave the readers a chance to connect the character so they could sense what Tim was feeling in that situation and what he was feeling.


Tim Obrien who just recently graduated from Macalester University had received a draft notice to fight for his country in the Vietnam War. Tim felt that he was too good to fight for his country considering he didn’t understand the concept of war and how that it benefitted anyone if people were getting killed. He decided that he would flee towards Canada but could not make an established decision. He has the understanding that if he had moved to Canada that he would be shamed and considered a coward. But Tim didn’t grasp how fighting with people and potentially killing many of them would solve any political issue. Therefore he found no significance in going to war for his country. He became more determined to leave to Canada and start a fresh life. While heading to the borders Tip top Lodge caught his eye and made him consider staying there for a while while he cleared his mind to ensure the decisions he were making were the right choices. There he had met Elroy who is quiet and mischievous that made Tim believes he knew what Tim was planning on doing the entire time. Although they had little conversations and Elroy did not make it his problem to find out Tim’s options. Because Tim had thought that he already knew what thoughts were going through Tim’s mind. Therefore all the work that he and Tim had done together he ended up paying Tim for the labour work he helped Elroy do. Tim didn’t want to accept the money because he sensed that every time he would spend that money he would feel the guilt and remember why and where that money came from. Sure enough Elroy had put all the money into an envelope and made sure it was placed somewhere where Tim would see it, having it being labelled “emergency fund” – as if he knew Tim was heading to Canada to run away.


Elroy Burdahl plays a role of a father figure to Tim when they meet at the Tip Top Lodge where Elroy manages and owns the lodge. Some of the traits that Elroy has are that he’s very quiet but is kind at the same time considering that he spent 6 consecutive days with Tim while he contemplated on going to fight in the Vietnam War or to flee to Canada and start a new life. He manages to help Tim finalize his decisions.

Tim’s character shifts throughout the story, he starts off being a college graduate and a pig head Declotter, where he is naïve and unaware of the world. He had never encountered a situation so life changing before and so he was stuck trying to figure out which outcome is worse; fighting a battle that he doesn’t support or being exiled from his whole life. With the biggest decision of his life right in front of him, he ponders whether he is ready to fulfill his obligations as an American or if he would preserve his own beliefs and move to Canada where he would not be forced to fight a battle he doesn’t believe in. “I felt something break open in my chest. I didn’t know what it was. I’ll never know. But it was real, I know that much, it was a physical rupture–a cracking-leaking-popping feeling.” (Pg.74) Stress overwhelms him and he breaks down. He decides that he is unable to go to Vietnam and begins to drive to Canada, where he stops at the Tip Top Lodge. There he meets Elroy Berdahl who saves his life. The time they spent together helped him realize that Canada was not a possibility.


In this short story Tim O’brien shows how much he values his life knowing that if he decides to head to war he has little chance of surviving and going home to his family and friends. Even though Tim knows his mind is set on driving to the boarder and heading to Canada, it is clearly shown that Tim cares a lot about what other people in his hometown, his parents and friends would think of him if he were to leave to Canada to avoid being drafted and forced to fight in the war. I believe that this demonstrations that Tim contemplations shows that he was not ever going to leave to Canada and was going to go fight the war. This displays why many people struggle to make decisions, because of what others would think of them.

Setting and Context

“On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien was set in June 1968 Worthington, Minnesota. O’Brien was twenty-one when he was drafted to the Vietnam War and twenty years older as the narrator of the story. When Tim Leaves Worthington he travels north to the Rainy River, near the Canadian boarder. There, he stays at the Tip Top Lodge with Elroy for six days, where they bond and Tim is able to find himself. The setting also took place in Vietnam where he was sent to fight. The Vietnam War was fought between 1957 and 1975 and was one of the most controversial military conflicts in United States history. This justifies Tim’s hate towards the war, he was not the only one who did not understand it’s meaning, many burnt their draft cards and fled to Canada because they did not believe that they needed to risk their lives for a war that did not make sense.


In the text, Tim states that he hates the sight of blood; yet, his most recent summer job involved removing blood clots from pig heads at the local slaughterhouse. Also at the end of the short story Tim’s final decision about the draft notice was to accept it. He had gone to war and was in sight of blood every for the majority of his time there.


In the short story, On the Rainy River, Tim O’Brien discovers who he is and where he belongs when he realizes he cannot flee to Canada, but also cannot face war. His life is made up when he travels to the Rainy River and meets the man that saved his life.


The tone of the short story would be depressing, sad and ironic. Tim demonstrates that he is stuck comtemplating whether or not to face the Vietnam war and is rather depressed by the thought that going to war he might not make it back to his family and friends. the irony presented would be his fear of blood but he works at a slaughterhouse cleaning blood off of pigs.


One of the symbols presented in the story would be the "Emergency fund" envelope with money from Elroy for Tim in case he decides to move to canada so he does not get drafted. This shows the readers that Elroy knew what Tim's plans were and why he has stayed at the Tip Top Lodge for a week and helped Elroy with chores around the lodge with no questions and little conversations. If Tim had accepted that money that would also present Tim with guilt because it would remind him about why he had so much money and the events that occured during that time and remind him about what he did.