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Quotes

Quote #1

They carried their reputations.  They carried the soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing.  Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. (The Things They Carried.77)

Right away we know that reputation carries more weight in the army than it does in your average high school.  Who would kill or die for his or her reputation?  But according to O'Brien, if you're a soldier, your greatest fear is not being maimed or dying, but blushing.

Quote #2

Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards. (The Things They Carried.77)

This is an interesting twist on the idea of cowardice. If the soldiers do something they otherwise would not do – say, kill someone – because they don't want to be seen as a coward, does that make them a coward anyway?  Check out the "Quotes: Weakness" for more on this.

Quote #3

They sneered at sick call.  They spoke bitterly about guys who had found release by shooting off their own toes or fingers […] It was fierce, mocking talk, with only a trace of envy or awe, but even so the image played it self out behind their eyes. (The Things They Carried.78)

Outwardly, they attack each other for showing weakness.  This means that even though they're all having these fantasies of taking the easy way out of the war, they can never talk about these fantasies, or give them any weight.  They care too much about their reputations.

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