Field Trip by Tim O’Brien
In Field Trip by Tim O’Brien we have the theme of forgiveness, connection, innocence, and closure. Taken from his The Things We 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 forgiveness. O’Brien has returned to Vietnam with his daughter, Kathleen, and he is trying to forgiver himself for Kiowa’s death. Despite the passing of time O’Brien still feels a sense of responsibility for Kiowa dying. He has been unable to let go of his friend. Kathleen on the other hand feels nothing. She doesn’t really understand what her father is doing and it is interesting that he lends her no advice on the matter. It is as though the matter remains private to O’Brien something he has been unable to talk about for twenty years. Not even his wife is present. Though it is possible she is fully aware of how agitated O’Brien is.
What is also interesting is the fact that Kathleen can make no connection with her father or Kiowa. Possibly assisted by the fact O’Brien is telling her nothing about events. She is lost to the seriousness of the event and how emotional O’Brien feels over the matter. Not even the tourist guide is any help to telling Kathleen about what her father is doing. Though he may realise how private the matter is to O’Brien. It is as though O’Brien is attempting to close the door on his past and move on. The fact that O’Brien’s wife is not with him could also suggest how important the issue is with O’Brien. Something that remains lost on the young ten year old Kathleen. She remains bored throughout the story though there is a lesson to be learnt.
There may also be some symbolism in the story that might be important. The moccasins that O’Brien places in the water may be his way of having Kiowa walk again. To walk to a peaceful place that does not include the place he died. It is after all the last spot where O’Brien saw Kiowa. The tourist guides silence as mentioned may highlight how personal the moment is for O’Brien. The tourist guide knows to leave O’Brien alone and let him grieve. The farmer raising his shovel in the air might also have some symbolic significance. Though it looks like a sign of defiance it may possibly be a signal that the war is over. That people have to move on and let go of the past. Something that is a little clearer to the reader by the peacefulness of the setting.
The end of the story is interesting too as there is a sense that O’Brien and to some extent the restless Kathleen have gotten closure. There is nothing left to fear or worry about. O’Brien can finally let his feelings about Kiowa go and move on with his life. More importantly it is also possible that Kathleen, when she gets older, will learn to understand the significance of what has happened. Her father has finally and respectfully buried Kiowa allowing for O’Brien, Kathleen and Kiowa to be free of the past. Though it may be a case that O’Brien will never forget how important Vietnam has been to shaping his life. After all Kathleen has seen the effects of Vietnam on her father and does realise how important the country is to him even if she cannot fully understand what is happening. O’Brien has lost his best friend in Vietnam and that is not something he has been able to let go of. Similar in scale and effect to the man that O’Brien killed (The Man I Killed) events as mentioned have shaped O’Brien. Vietnam may always be in O’Brien’s mind and memory but it does not always have to be negative. O’Brien met Kiowa in Vietnam and still has happy memories of his friend. Times when they felt connected to each other and Kiowa helped O’Brien.