Human Instinct

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The Merriam Webster Dictionary lists exactly seven definitions for the word “instinct.” However, the one that most accurately depicts human nature describes instinct as “a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason” (“Instinct”). In The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, the soldiers in the war depend primarily on instinct, often taking action without clear thoughts or proper reasoning. Hypothetically, if a grenade were to be thrown in front of a group of soldiers escorting a disabled civilian through a jungle, each soldier would have a distinct reaction. Some will choose to run away and leave the others behind, while some will choose to save the civilian first. One’s decisions reflect his or her thought processes, but one’s reactions will reflect his or her character. Tim O’Brien’s and Norman Bowker’s instinctive responses and post-war experiences prove that war exposes the core of one's identity.
In "On the Rainy River," O'Brien reveals his mindset and character before fighting in the war. He views himself to be “too good for the war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything… above it” (O’Brien 45). O’Brien’s decision to stay in the United States and fight in the war is an act of choice instead instinct. However, war robs its participants of personal choice by rendering them unable to control their actions. In war, soldiers are instead controlled largely by raw emotion, and therefore instinct as well. For example, O’Brien reflects on his experiences with death in “Ambush,” describing the kill as “automatic… to make him go away – just evaporate… [he] had already thrown the grenade before telling [himself] to thr...

... middle of paper ..., O’Brien was able to turn his pain into a life purpose by immortalizing his loved ones. On the other hand, Bowker was not able to cope and resorted to taking his own life. In high-pressure environments such as war, instinct is the dominating force behind one’s actions. It is something inherent and extremely difficult to change for it corresponds with the person’s deepest desires. Therefore, instinctive reactions are accurate portrayals of a person’s inner identity and character. The cases of Bowker and O’Brien prove that it is the discovery of oneself during war, and not war itself, that has a profound impact on the human spirit.

Works Cited

"Instinct." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 27 May 2014. .
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction. New York, NY: Penguin, 1991. Print.

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