Church by Tim O’Brien
In Church by Tim O’Brien we have the theme of friendship, conflict, religious practice and innocence. Taken from his The Thing They Carried collection the story is narrated in the first person by O’Brien himself and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that O’Brien may be exploring the theme of friendship. The monks at the Church are very friendly to Dobson and Kiowa. This might be significant as it may have been unusual for people to be friendly to American Troops. So influenced is Dobson by the sight he sees he plays with the notion of joining the church. Though this is short lived. Dobson’s notion of joining the church is easy to understand. There is no conflict in the church unlike the war that he is going on. If anything Dobson and Kiowa are at peace of mind when they are at the church. The monks are even helping to clean Dobson’s gun which might show what side the monks are on.
Throughout the story Dobson ponders with the thought of joining the monks but feels as though he is inadequate and does not have what it takes to be a monk. He can do the easy things like helping people but he feels as though he can’t teach them right or wrong. This too may be significant as Dobson’s mind may be poisoned by the war. He has seen too many bad things happen. Kiowa on the other hand is a religious man but he has no wish to join the monastery. He knows his function is to fight in the war and to get home as quickly and safely as possible. There is also a sense that Kiowa is amusing Dobbins when he suggests he joins the monastery. Something that is lost on Dobson. Also Dobson’s as mentioned does not feel as though he would be good enough to be a monk. His lifestyle may not necessarily blend in with the life of a monk.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. As mentioned the monks clean Dobson’s gun. Dobson and the monks share a common enemy. The North Vietnamese soldiers. In all likelihood the monks know that their lives will change forever should they fall in the hands of the North Vietnamese. The Baptist bible that Kiowa carried symbolises faith though not necessarily a faith to the monks. Kiowa is a religious man but he is a Baptist and that is where his beliefs lie. If anything he finds the monks peculiar as he may have never seen them before. Which may suggest a sense of innocence on Kiowa’s part. The fact that the monk cleans Dobson’s trigger might also be important as the monk might know that this is the instrument to kill the enemies of the monks.
The end of the story is interesting as both Dobson and Kiowa find spiritually in the war field. They consider that all men have the capability to be nice. It’s just that their circumstances change. Soldiers in general do not want to kill another person but circumstances at times dictate they have to in order to survival. The meeting at the church which affects Dobson more than it does Kiowa despite the fact that both men are religious. This could be important as Kiowa may be battle warn and seen too much of the war. Hence his viewpoints on the church. It is after all not his church but Kiowa may have the Christianity beaten out of him by the effects of the war. He has seen to much killing to have a true understanding of religion. Dobson on the other hand has had a moment of realisation and this is noticeable when he gives the monks a piece of chocolate. He is grateful for what they have done for him. The monks could have run away and out of sight from Dobson and Kiowa but they chose to stay because they expected that they were good men. Young men who were fighting a war they did not necessarily believe in and did not want to fight.