Norman Bowker

Norman arrives in Vietnam operating within a schema of WWII soldiering. He believes, that what marks men as courageous are medals and service awards. Norman has an active emotional life, an intensity of feeling about the atrocities he experienced in Vietnam, especially Kiowa’s death.

These feelings are not directed out toward the world as anger, but instead are turned in upon him, and they become self loathing and extreme survivor guilt. Tim describes Norman as someone who “did not know what to feel”. Norman himself could not find words to describe his feelings, and instead turns to O’Brien to tell his story for him.

Norman connects “Tim” the soldier with Tim the writer. He operates as a figment of O’Briens imagination allowing him to move between the war and storytelling, providing a purpose and a story for O’Brien to tell. This stands in contrast to Norman’s actions in the novel, and points to what motivated him to take his own life, the lack of an objective.

Norman embodies the paradox between the need for emotional truth and the pain many feel in expressing it. The Norman character is most essential to the novel as fodder about which O’Brien creates a fictional story. He asks Tim to write his story, and when he reads it, asks him to revise it to reflect more of his feeling of intimate loss. Norman teaches Tim how to articulate pain through storytelling, the particular pain of Kiowa’s death to the wastefulness of war. Without this experience of articulating trauma through storytelling, Tim asserts that he too could have been trapped in the same emotional paralysis as Norman. Norman also helps Tim realise how writing helped him to avoid a similar fate.

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