The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried Foreignness and "the Other" Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Story Title.Paragraph)
Beyond anything else, he was afraid of disgracing himself, and therefore his family and village. (The Man I Killed.19)
By taking the young man that he killed and making up a back-story for him on the spot—a family, a wife, a love of mathematics—O'Brien is making the young man not Other by sheer force of will. He's making himself relate to the young man. And he goes further by saying that the young man's greatest fear, and the reason he went to war, was the same reason that O'Brien himself went to war: fear of disgrace. O'Brien has more in common with this soldier (or so he imagines) than he does with people back home.
A while later, when we moved out of the hamlet, she was still dancing. "Probably some weird ritual," Azar said, but Henry Dobbins looked back and said no, the girl just liked to dance. (Style.1)
By calling her dance a "weird ritual," Azar transforms the girl into an Other. She's Vietnamese, so she couldn't possibly just be dancing because she's traumatized and she needs to dance, right? But Henry Dobbins brings us gently down to Earth when he looks at the girl and recognizes her as human, not Other, and says that hey, maybe the girl just likes to dance.
The town could not talk, and would not listen. "How'd you like to hear about the war?" he might have asked, but the place could only blink and shrug. (Speaking of Courage.32)
It's pretty obvious that the physical town is standing in for America here. The town can only blink and shrug at Norman Bowker. He can't make himself understood. The town doesn't want to hear about his stories or the complexities of his experience. He's become Other, or maybe it has.