Night Life by Tim O’Brien

Night Life - Tim O’BrienIn Night Life by Tim O’Brien we have the theme of tension, desperation, respect, connection and change. Taken from his The Things 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 tension. Kiley isn’t himself. He isn’t used to the night life that the platoon are living. It bothers him to the point that he does not feel as though he is able to continue. In reality Kiley finds himself in a desperate situation. He has the support of Sanders but what Kiley needs to do is to believe in himself to try and persuade himself that things are and will be okay. This is not something that Kiley manages to do and throughout the story he is at his wits end.

A point that seems clear to the reader but not to the men in the platoon. At no stage does Sanders or any of the other men suggest that Kiley may becoming mentally ill. They just listen to him and are unable to say anything to ease his mind. As a medic one would expect Kiley to see things that most people wouldn’t be able to handle and he does. It’s just that the bugs that bite him through the night are much worse for Kiley. He is able for the enemy and he is able to perform his medical duties but something real rattles him when it comes to the bugs at night. He is simply not able to handle life as it is. Fighting a war will have a toll on a person but adding the hostility of the environment can make things even worse for a soldier. How desperate Kiley gets is noticeable by the fact that he shoots himself in the foot.

There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The bugs as an example help to heighten the tension and desperation that Kiley is feeling. The wire the men tie to one another serves to connect them as well as save them from harm. This might be particularly important as the wire lines are the only thing which connects the men in the story. O’Brien himself wasn’t there when things happened and he is relying on Sanders to tell him what happened Kiley. The gun that Kiley uses to shoot himself in the foot might also have symbolical significance as O’Brien could be suggesting that just as a gun is a weapon of war it can be also used to get someone out of a war. Something which happens Kiley. A chopper arrives and takes him to a field hospital.

The end of the story is interesting as the men still support Kiley regardless of the fact that he has gotten himself out of the war. Cross in particular will let it be known that the event was an accident. It is as though nobody needs to know the truth about what Kiley has done. This is important as it suggests that Kiley has the respect of not only his commander (Cross) but of the other men in the unit too. He will get some much needed rest and hopefully he will not be out of action for too long. As a medic he is an important part of any unit. It just happens that Kiley has reached a stage in his life and in the war in whereby he found it difficult to accept things for what they were. If anything his environment took control of him and caused him to go mad. Some rest and the recharging of his batteries will see him improve. It is also interesting that none of the men judge Kiley for what he has done. It is as though they have an understanding with one another. They realise how difficult their job is.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Night Life by Tim O’Brien." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 18 Mar. 2021. Web.

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