Winston Churchill declared, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and do something. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen” (qtd. in Steinberg 1). In “Speaking of Courage” by Tim O’Brien, Norman Bowker is a Vietnam War veteran who is returning to his hometown. He suffers from survivor’s guilt because he let Kiowa, his Native American comrade, die in the war. However, he doesn’t have the courage to express his remorse to his friends or his father. He also thinks that his friends and his father won’t have the courage to listen to his story. Accordingly, he avoids the confessor figures and mindlessly circles the central lake in his town in his father’s old Chevy. “Speaking of Courage” should be an essential part of in the 11th grade curriculum because it has literary quality, studies survivor’s guilt in relation to the human experience, and scrutinizes a father-son relationship that is relatable to high school students. The repeated image of a “circle” acquires multiple levels of meaning because it symbolizes the inability for a veteran to return to American society, the loss of people in a veteran’s life when he travels overseas, and a veteran’s desire to talk around his experience in the war. Norman talks around his experience during the war because he is unable to directly express his survivor’s guilt. Survivor’s guilt is a fundamental part of the human experience because guilt it causes human conflict. O’Brien argues that the veteran needs to have the courage to disclose his traumatic experience to relieve survivor’s guilt, and people on the home front need to have the courage to listen to the veteran’s experience. The study of survivor’s guilt encourages high school students to relieve their mental burden by sharing their stories that hurt their well-being. The study also teaches that high school students have to be open to other people’s stories. Norman’s inability to talk with his father about his survivor’s guilt from the war distances their relationship. war experiences.
O Brien argues that when the father can iOwer his expectations of his son being courageous, the father will become more receptive to his son’s story. Norman’s father-son relationship implores high school students to speak with their fathers about the hardships they face and instructs fathers to not hold such high expectations for their sons and daughters. Their discussion about the value of courage will help high school students realize that their definition of courage prevents them from “seeing” courage in ways or situations that do not meet their preconceptions. “Speaking of Courage” should be part of the 11th grade curriculum because it reflects literary quality through the use of symbolism. The image of a “circle” repeated in the story has strong symbolic meaning. Flannery O’Connor, National Book Award winner, explains that symbols are “details that, while having their essential place in the literal level of the story, operate in depth as well as on the surface, increasing the story in every direction” (71). The “literal level” is the structural importance the symbol has in the story, and the “depth” is created when the symbol acquires at least three levels of deeper meaning that is supported, but not explicitly stated, in the text.
The “literal level” of the “circling” is Norman’s need to drive around the central lake in his father’s Chevy. The first level of meaning behind the “circling” is is the symbolic barrier that a veteran must overcome in order to return to American society. Norman circles around a lake, which is a symbol for American society, “A source of pride, nice to look at on bright summer days, and later in that evening it would color up with fireworks” (0’Brien 132). The lake is described as a “source of pride” because many Americans display their pride for their country through pledges, anthems, and flags. America is also “nice to look at” because of its natural beauty and breathtaking landscapes. The “fireworks” are also representative of American society because Americans celebrate the Fourth of July and other national holidays. Norman’s inability to return to American society is symbolized by his inability to penetrate the lake. He can only “circle” it. Norman would have trouble transitioning back to American society because his daily routine in the war was much more strict and demanding than a typical day on the home front. All of Norman’s friends and family before the war participated in their own daily routines because they stayed on the home front. O’Brien says, “The town seemed remote somehow. Sally was married and Max was drowned and his father was at home watching baseball on national TV” (O’Brien 133). Norman’s friends and family are “married” and “watching baseball” – both activittes that are typlcal of a person living in American society. However, Norman cannot settle back into American society. Instead, he perceives that the town is “remote” because he is distancing himself from the American life that he should be living along with his friends and family.
A part of what makes the town seem “remote” is the loss of people in Norman’s life. An essay in Twentieth Century Literature, winner of the Andrew J. Kappel Prize in 2006, reasons that the second level of meaning of Norman Bowker “circling” around the lake symbolizes the loss of people who were in a veteran’s life before he went to war (Timmerman 4). Norman’s pre-war memories “circle” through his head when he is “circling” the lake, “Max was just an idea, and most of Norman Bowker’s other friends were living in Des Moines or Sioux City, or going to school somewhere, or holding down jobs. The high school girls were mostly gone or married. Sally Kramer, whose picture he had once carried in his wallet, was one who had married” (O’Brien 133). Norman is “circling” through his thoughts when he quickly switches from thinking about “Max,” to his “friends, to the “high school girls,” to “Sally.” He calls Max an “idea” because after Max drowned in the lake, he was physically “lost.” Norman also interacted with Max consistently before the war, but his “death” denied Norman the outlet for expressing his feeling and experiences. His friends and the high school girls are “lost” because they moved away for school, jobs, or spouses, and were now out of contact with Norman. And Sally is now lost” because she married a “Gustafson,” even though Norman loved her and carried her picture in his wallet. The content of these thoughts matter because they share the characteristic of something Norman “lost” when he went to war. This “loss” makes it clear that Norman’s isolation is not entirely his fault or choice, but also the fault of his old friends in his hometown because they moved away and left him isolated.
As a result of Norman’s isolation, he cannot confide in other people. Accordingly, the third level of meaning from Norman’s “circling” is that he talks “around” his memories of war. O’Brien describes the motion of Norman’s car around the lake, “Clockwise, as if in orbit, he took the Chevy on another seven-mile turn around the lake” (O’Brien 133). His motion is “clockwise” because it is very mechanical and mindlesS as if he is stuck in motion. Norman’s car is in “orbit” because a planet in “orbit” has the inability to stop “circling” around a star. Likewise, Norman has the inability to stop “circling” around the lake. An object in “orbit” also refers to something out of this world, or a larger picture. Aside from physically not being able to stop circling, Norman’s larger picture is his survivor’s guilt. Norman talks “around” his experiences during the war because he does not want to relive the moment when he failed to save Kiowa, which brings him sorrow. He also talks “around” his experiences because he does not know how to communicate his feelings with anyone. Because Norman cannot stop “circling” around the lake, he will permanently be isolated from his father, Sally, and the other people he knew before the war. Permanent isolation will prevent him from having the opportunity to talk about his deeper experiences with other people, so he will be stuck talking “around” them. O’Brien argues that a veteran has to have the courage to express remorse, and to relieve the veterans survivor’s guilt, the people in his hometown need to have the courage to listen. According to Achilles in Vietnam, a book recommended for medical professionals and academic scholars, survivor’s guilt is the grief a soldier has after experiencing a traumatic event.
Often times, this traumatic experience is the death of a comrade (Shay 69). In the story, Norman Bowker’s traumatic experience was letting Kiowa die in the muck of the song ‘Tra Bra because he couldn’t stand the smell of shit. Shay asserts that the surviving soldier will usually perform “wrongful substitution,” or believe that he should have died instead of his fallen comrade. The survivor will then begin to come up with “what if” scenarios of actions he could’ve done differently to prevent the soldier from dying, even though he didn’t cause the soldier’s death in the first place (70). Norman’s “what if scenario” is the idea that he should have rescued Kiowa instead of fleeing because he couldn’t stand the smell. And as predicted, O’Brien also presents the likely possibility that Kiowa was dead to begin with, however, Norman doesn’t believe it. Shay articulates that the “what if” scenarios aren’t the true cause of grief, but rather the closeness of the comrades; and their closeness causes the survivor to blame himself for his comrades’ death (73). While it is not mentioned in the story, Norman and Kiowa seem to have had a friendly relationship in “The Things they Carried.” Norman blames himself for Kiowa’s death but doesn’t want to share his burden by describing his experience to other people.
Norman’s survivor’s guilt alone is a reason enough to include it in the 11th-grade Curriculum because it Is part of the human experience. Sam Menahem, therapist and therapy professor at Columbia University, asserts, “This is the dynamic behind all human conflict. It leads to the entire range of human misery, depression, anxiety, divorce, illness, and, on a global Scale, war. All of it is caused by one simple human emotion — Guilt!” (2) All of these “human conflicts are part of the human experience because humans go through many of these crises throughout their lives. By studying “guilt in the form of Norman’s survivor’s guilt, students can identify the source of these “conflicts” and learn how to prevent them in the future. To cure his survivor’s guilt, Norman must share his experiences with someone in his hometown. The counseling service, Soldiers and Families Embraced believes that “One of the most effective ways to reduce feelings of isolation, withdrawal, and helplessness is to share experiences with someone” (“Dealing'” 1). “Isolation,” “withdrawal,” and “helplessness” can cause mental damage to soldiers. But combined, these three feelings might be enough to cause a veteran to commit suicide if he doesn’t address his survivor’s guilt. Norman’s inability to divulge his failure to save Kiowa worsens his survivor’s guilt because he is isolating himself from other people, “If Sally had not been married, or if his father were not such a baseball fan, it would have been a good time to talk” (O’Brien 134).
O’Brien narrates with “would have been” instead of “was” to emphasize that Norman only thought about disclosing his survivor’s guilt instead of actually talking about his survivor’s guilt. Because he cannot physically open up to his father, he imagines sharing is thoughts with his father, “”I almost won the Silver Star, he would have said” (O’Brien 135) and confessing to Sally, “He imagines Sally Kramer closing her eyes” (O’Brien 139). Again, O’ Brien uses “would have” and “imagines” when Norman is discussing his survivor’s guilt because his confessions are really imaginary (Timmerman 4). He can only imagine these conversations because he doesn’t want to tell his tather or Sally disturbing stories, and he doesn’t want to relive his stories in his head. By not opening up he feels “isolated” because he has no one to talk to in his hometown. Consequently, he has no one to talk to because he is “withdrawn” from society mindlessly “circling” the lake by himself. While he is “circling” the lake, he is “helpless” because he cannot return to American society and he can’t focus on his memories of war.
Norman also feels “isolated,” “withdrawn,” and “helpless” after his failure to express guilt to the intercom at the A&W. Norman’s dialogue at the A&W gives the story literary merit because it is “an experience, not an abstraction” (O’Connor 73). Norman’s “experience” throughout the story is that he fails to share his thoughts with anybody, including his father, Sally, and the intercom. Thus, the whole story is the meaning. His dialogue with the intercom is not an “abstraction” because it is an actual event that takes place in the story. The voice wants to help Norman admit his failure to save Kiowa during the Vietnam War, “”Hey, loosen up, the voice said. “What you really need, friend?”” (°’Brien 146). The voice says “loosen up” and “friend” because it is very approachable and supportive of Norman. But Norman decides not to confess, “Well,’ he said, how’d you like to hear about-“(O’Brien 146). O’Brien uses a typographic break to indicate Norman’s pause as he changes his mind. Norman’s first thought is to talk about his guilt, but then changed his mind and ended up saying nothing. As a result of his inability to confess his survivor’s guilt, Norman wades into the lake. This event at the end of the story is in a position of privilege. The wading is significant because it foreshadows suicide. “The water felt warm against his skin. He put his head under” (O’Brien 148). Putting his “head under” the water is Norman’s shadow realm, or point of no return. This is where he gives up on life because he can’t muster up the will to improve his life by talking about his stories to others. The water felt “warm” because he enjoyed his symbolic death better than he enjoyed suffering from survivor’s guilt.
Norman’s failure to address his survivor’s guilt gives the story educational merit because it is relatable to high school students who carry their own intangibles, which is why all GBN students should read the story. O”Brien states that soldiers carry their own intangibles, “Griet, terror, love, longing– these were intangibles, but…they had tangible weight” (qtd. in Rubenstein 22). “Grief, terror, love, and longing” are symptoms of Norman’s survivor’s guilt. While they are “intangible,” they have “weight” because they caused Norman to blame himself for Kiowa’s death and isolate himself from the rest of society. These symptoms are common when high school students go through struggles of their own. Susanne Rubenstein, the English teacher at Wachusett Regional High School, describes these struggles, “Getting a diploma, getting a job, getting a life. Their words reveal all that lies under the buoyancy and brashness of their adolescent demeanor, and I am reminded that they are brave soldiers. When the last words are spoken, there is an almost palpable sense of relief in the room” (23). A “diploma,” “job,” and a “life” are all pressures that students face. While students don’t face the same extremity as Norman, they are all “brave soldiers” because their pressures still create grief.
After they divulge their pressures, there is “relief” in the room because they have lightened their internal burden by sharing it with others. O’Brien is motivating students to share their experiences with others to prevent suicidal actions and feel relief. To share their experiences, veterans need someone who has the courage to listen. O’Brien is arguing that the home front has to be open to what the veterans have to say. Their openness will give veterans the freedom to share their experiences and relieve their guilt. Being open will also give the home front the opportunity to challenge their preconceived assumptions about war and learn the truth from a person who has fought in it. The title, “Speaking of Courage” adds levels of meaning to the story. Peter Rabinowitz, comparative literature teacher at Hamilton College, says that titles, the ultimate position of privilege, are specifically put there by the author to communicate the most meaning (1). Structurally, it is the title because Norman needs to “speak of his courage” in the Vietnam War to relieve his survivor’s guilt. O’Brien is also attacking the home front’s lack of courage by not listening to the veterans when they return. The home front may not be willing to listen because they assume that the veteran has a disturbing experience that would make them feel uncomfortable. An essay in Critique asserts that the home front didn’t have “courage” because they weren’t brave enough to hear the disturbing stories that the veterans had to tell. The responsibility for Norman’s inability to relieve his survivor’s guilt is with both Norman and the people in his town (Kaufmann 4). Norman thinks the people will not want to speak to him, “If she were here with him, in the car, she would’ve said, “Stop it. I don’t like that word. “That’s what it was” (°’Brien 139). Norman describes the Song Tra Bra as “shit” or o0ze that sucks soldiers under because he has to tell the story more fully even if some of the details are not true. Kaufman emphasizes that Norman has to tell the true story to relieve his survivor’s guilt (3). Norman believes Sally doesn’t want to listen because she has innate wish fulfillment.
According to Richard Paul and Linda Elder, directors at the Center for Critical Thinking, innate wish fulfillment is belief in what “feels good” (1). He thinks Sally knows that the war was very horrible, but she feels uncomfortable picturing gruesome images of the war in her head. Sally’s thinking is innate wish fulfillment because she would “feel good” if she tried to avoid listening to Norman instead of feeling uncomfortable. Norman thinks his language is what causes Sally to stop thinking about her true beliefs and cover them up with innate wish fulfillment. Norman often uses the word “shit” to describe the reality of his conditions during the war. O’Brien even emphasizes that the war was gross and disgusting by italicizing the word “was.” Norman thinks this violent language enables Sally to stop thinking about the war and immediately defend her values of clean conversations by focusing on “that word” instead of the war itself. If Sally does not open herself up to Norman’s stories, she will cause him to forfeit an opportunity to talk through his experience. Norman believes he does not have an opportunity to talk because Sally won’t listen, “Norman Bowker shrugged. “No problem, he murmured. (O’Brien 133). Norman shrugging while saying “No problem” was an act of self denial so he could feel good (Timmerman 4). He talks to himself by saying “No problem,” which means he is seriously thinking about sharing his story with someone, even though the words communicate that he doesn’t care. He “shrugs” to give himself confidence that he is making the right decision not to talk to anyone. But his “muttering” means that he is reluctantly going against his own will by losing the opportunity to talk because he wants to. He just doesn’t have the courage or the knowledge to do so.
Sally’s innate wish Julfillment when she didn’t want to listen to Norman gives the story educational merit because high school students can relate to Sally Kramer – a young person who stayed on the home front when the soldiers went to war. Because Sally does not listen to Norman, he can never fully recover from his traumatic experience. So, O’Brien is motivating8 high school students to fight back their innate wish fulfillment by having the courage to listen to a gruesome story that may make them feel uncomfortable. He wants them to avoid acting like Sally and listen to other people’s stories. Not only will listening make students more informed about the realities of others people’s situations, but it will also help relieve the stress of a person who needs to vent. Without a listener, Norman is unable to express his guilt. Norman’s father holds high expectations for Norman because he wants him to learn values from the war. His high expectations prevent Norman from feeling comfortable with his father, so he will not express his remors e. O’Brien argues that in this father-son relationship, the father must not expect all veterans from Vietnam to return with the value of courage., Norman thinks his father wants him to return with courage, which causes their relationship to be distant and nonexistent. O’Brien clarifies that Norman thinks his father expected him to be courageous, “”The Silver Star?” his father might have said” (O’Brien 135). Instead of asking how Norman was feeling due to the “circling” thoughts in his head, Norman thinks his father’s first instinct was to ask whether or not he won the “silver Star.” The “Silver Star” is an award for courage in the military, so Norman imagines that his father prioritizes his expectations over the well-being of his son. The soldiers are very young when they go to war, which prevents them from developing courage. According to Larry Johannessen, high school teacher and former professor of English at Northern Illinois University, the average age for a soldier in the Vietnam War was nineteen, while the average age fora soldier in World War II was twenty-six (5).
Many nineteen-year-old soldiers are too young to fully develop courage because they aren’t fully matured. Nineteen-year-olds are not willing to risk their lives to save others because they value their own and have many more years to live. But at the age of twenty-six, soldiers have developed the maturity to act courageously and have the mindset that other soldiers are just as deserving to be saved as they are. The second reason why Norman’s father should not expect Norman to have courage is because not all soldiers mentally develop the same in war. According to Amia Lieblich, Ph.D. in psychology, “[Veterans] claimed that military service tended to weaken or undermine norms of moral behavior (167-169). “Moral” confusion includes being unclear about the willingness to act “courageously.” Soldiers are “morally” obligated to act courageously by risking their own life to save another. But it is also human nature to want to save their own life. Back on the home front, Americans believed that soldiers developed courage during the war, when in reality, soldiers became more confused and went against their own moral standards. As a result of this misconception, many Americans on the home front didn’t show support for the veterans when they returned. Johannesen gives examples of the consequences of not supporting the veterans, “Vietnam veterans account for more than one-third of all homeless people in America” (3). Then he explains a novel about a veteran who was “never able to hold a job, start a family, or adjust to the mainstream American life” (3). Norman’s inability to “adjust back to mainstream American life” is evident becauseof his ability to tell the time of day. This unique ability is a strange piece of information. Rabinowitz asserts that authors choose to incorporate strange pieces of information because they accumulate meaning (1). O’ Connor also argues that “The basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode” (65). The “truth” she explains is something in reality. The “truth” is the “basis of art” because it makes stories believable to the reader. The story has “truth,” so it has literary merit. Norman’s ability to tell time without a watch means that he can’t adjust back to normal life because he cannot escape the realities of war (Timmerman 4).
Noman acquired this ability in the war, “The war had taught him to tell time without clocks, and even at night, waking from sleep, he could usually place it within ten minutes either way'” (O’Brien 134). While this ability might seem strange to the reader, it is very “true” of soldiers returning from war because they had to know when to sleep, when to wake, and when to march in the jungles of Vietnam. Norman holds onto this “true” ability from the war, meaning that he cannot escape the reality of the war. The inability to escape the schedule and the war itself prevents him from “adjusting to the mainstream American life.” He is on the military time schedule, not on the “mainstream American” time schedule, which is part of “American life.” While he is technically not “homeless,” he is mentally away from home because he can only think about the war. He is physically away from home because he is stuck “circling the lake.” Society should proceed to transition soldiers back so they can avoid problems like “homelessness” or the inability to “adjust to the mainstream American life.” Norman’s recollection of a radio operator when he is ordering at the A&W is another way he is unable to “adjust to the mainstream American life.” Norman’s dialogue with the carhop is an example of a veteran’s inability to see the world like they saw it before the war (Timmerman 5). The carhop condescendingly tells Norman how to order his food, “*You blind?” she said. She put out her hand and tapped an intercom attached to a steel post” (O’Brien 145).
Norman actually is “blind” to the way the A&W food ordering works. Instead of ordering from the “carhop,” the carhop coldly tells him to order from the “intercom” instead. The intercom uses the same language as a communications radio in the Vietnam War, “*Affirmative, copy clear… Roger doger. Repeat…Fire for effect. Stand by” (O’Brien 145). All of these phrases are used by vietnam radio men. Norman hears these commands from the intercom because he is unable to see the intercom as just an everyday device used for ordering food in “mainstream America.” The war makes him believe it is a radio. The intercom conversation gives the story literary merit because it exemplifies the property that makes good fiction, “the fact that it is concrete” (O’Connor 67). The “concrete” scenario O’Brien is describing is Norman’s inability to “adjust to the mainstream American life.” Instead of explicitly stating he couldn’t, O’brien is using the intercom to describe Norman’s inability by using specific connotations of radio language to prove his point.
At another level, the story challenges society by redefining the meaning of courage. Unlike Norman’s father’s definition, courage should not be defined as an heroic act, such as saving a comrade from dying. While Norman failed to save Kiowa, he still demonstrated courage by going to war in the first place and then trying to save Kiowa prior to his failure. While they had the courage to go to war, many soldiers didn’t perform courageous acts because they didn’t support the war. An article in the Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History states, “The Vietnam War proved, instead, that the United States had become a powerhungry bully run by antidemocratic elites” (Farber 185). The only reason why the soldiers were marching was because corrupt “elites” told them to. These were people who didn’t want to get their hands dirty so they sacrificed other “lives” to fight. In other words, the soldiers were fighting the “elites war, run by a group that they could neither relate to nor get along with. The soldiers didn’t see a clear purpose in the war because of their different perspective from the “elites,” so they lacked the motivation to fight for them.
They also lacked motivation because the war was so unpopular. This lack of motivation explains why soldiers didn’t perform courageous acts and didn’t want to risk their Own lives to complete an objective set by the “elites.” Norman believes his father would question whether or not he performed a courageous act, despite Norman’s youth, “moral” confusion, and lack of motivation. At the same time, Norman’s father is still “circling” through his thoughts, but Norman doesn’t think his father will help him stop “circling” through his own thoughts. Instead, Norman believes his father will ask whether or not he won a medal. Additionally, Timmerman supports that Norman’s father is still in a confused, trapped state after World War II, which is “circling” through his thoughts (4). This ironic situation is an example of Norman ‘s tather’s expectations for Norman.
O’Brien is articulating that Norman’s father had extremely high expectations for his son. He wanted Norman to have a better military career than he did by winning the Silver Star, a task that he did not accomplish. His high standards and his own “circling” in his head distanced him from Norman. He is described as distant from Norman, “The town seemed remote somehow..his father was at home watching baseball on national TV” (O’ Brien 133). Norman’s father was watching “baseball” because baserunners “circle” the bases to score runs. Norman’s father “circling” through his thoughts from World War II means that he is still mentally confused in terms of his “morals” just as Norman is mentally confused after returning from the Vietnam War. Therefore, O’Brien is criticizing Norman’s father’s expectations because they are a product of his confusion, not realistic expectations. Norman is also just imagining that his father wanted him to win the Silver Star rather than his father actually wanting him to win the medal. This difference is important because O’Brien is acknowledging that soldiers often have the unexamined preconception that they have to live up to their fathers expectations. Norman thinks he has to win the Silver Star because his father wants him to because his father knows how distinguished that medal is after his service in the military.
This father-son relationship gives the story educational merit because it is relatable to high School students and their relationship with their fathers. O’ Brien is encouraging high school students to talk through issues with their fathers even if their fathers don’t seem to be mentally recovered from a traumatizing experience like war. Norman still imagines contessing his experience on the Song Tra Bra to his father. The imagined father stresses, “”Hey, l’m your ather (OBrien 136). While Norman’s father didn’t say this in real life, Norman is imagining that his father would because he knows that deep down, his father is still loving enough to listen to his experiences. O’Brien italicized “father” because the father is emphasizing that he is still a confessor figure even though he is trapped “circling” his thoughts like Norman. Norman and his father will be able to maintain a healthier father-son relationship if Norman is comfortable enough to talk to his father despite his father still being trapped “circling” through his thoughts. Norman’s relationship with his father teaches high school students to talk to their own parents about issues they are going through.
Aisha Sultan, parenting columnist for St. Louis Post Dispatch, says “society is doing a better job of socializing boys to talk about their emotion” (1). Expressing “emotions” is crucial to a healthy father-son relationship because the father and the son can be on the same page about what is going through the son’s head. Both of them can diagnose and work together to solve any problem the son has instead of having the son carry the burden on his own. Norman’s relationship with his father also teaches fathers that they should not hold such high expectations for their children. Sultan explains, “When a son realized his father is just a man, mortal and flawed, he begins to assert his own identity and challenge his father’s authority and knowledge” (2). The expectations are the root cause of the son’s “challenges” because the son doesn’t want to live up to a person’s expectations if the person is “mortal” and “flawed.” If fathers didn’t have such high expectations for their sons at birth, then these “challenges” would never Occur and both the father and the son could coexist peacefully.
Given these facts, “Speaking of Courage” by Tim O’Brien should be included in the 11th grade curriculum because it has literary merit through it’s use of the symbolism of the “circle,” Norman’s “experience” dealing with survivor’s guilt, the “true” ability to tell the time of day, and the “concreteness” of his conversation with the intercom. The story also discusses the human experience by arguing that a veteran with survivor’s guilt needs to have the courage to talk, and that the home front needs to have the courage to listen to his traumatic experience. The study of this human experience motivates high school students to vent their griet by sharing the stories that they carry to ease their mental burden. O’Brien uses Norman’s relationship with his father to argue that fathers who have been to war should not expect their veteran son to return with the value of courage. Their relationship becomes distant because Norman doesn’t talk to his father and imagines his father would have expected him to be courageous. O’Brien is criticizing this unhealthy relationship to teach high school students to talk to their fathers and to teach fathers to not hold their sons up to such high standards.