Traditional heroes like Superman and Spiderman are all courageous and sacrificial. From the beginning of comic books, to be considered a hero, a person was thought to have super powers that could save civilians from dangerous situations and change the world by fighting crime. Tim O?Brien?s childhood comic hero was the Lone Ranger. Looking up to the Ranger, O?Brien describes his personal view of a hero with ?bravely and forthrightly, without thought of personal loss or discredit.? Within Tim O?Brien?s story ?On The Rainy River,? the traditional values of a hero are warped and contradictory to the social norm of today. Ironically, the heroic characters are displayed as ordinary people, and cowardice vs. courage is shown in an uncanny way.
Tim O?Brien?s depicted hero Elroy Berdahl is far from traditional. He?s described as an ?eighty-one year old, skinny and shrunken, and mostly bald man wearing a flannel shirt and brown work pants.? On the contrary, society?s image of a hero is young, built up, and well dressed. Firefighters, for example, follow strict dress codes along with physical training to ensure that they can survive in untamed fires. They hold characteristics that make children look up to them and strive to become heroes themselves. Moreover, Elroy lead a very simple life. He owned an old fishing resort called the Tip Top Lodge and his only daily job activities were ?sweeping down the cabins and stacking firewood.? However, these characteristics make him an unconventuinal hero in a different way. Heroes aren?t always out saving lives and preventing fires. O?Brien uses Elroy to show how even the most average of people can have a tremendous effect on others around them. Elroy?s actions played a significant role in O?Brien?s final decision on the Rainy River.
Additionally, throughout ?On the Rainy River,? Tim O?Brien faces the moral dilemma of duality. In his own mind, O?Brien is torn between going off to a war he doesn?t believe in, or fleeing to Canada and avoiding the draft. Fighting the battle of man vs. himself as well as being too embarrassed to leave, O?Brien is concerned about how his peers will remember him, stating:
I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile. [?] I feared losing the respect of my parents. I feared the law. I feared ridicule and censure. My hometown was a conservative little spot on the prairie, a place where tradition counted, and it was easy to imagine people sitting around a table down at the old Gobbler Cafe on Main Street, coffee cups poised, the conversation slowly zeroing in on the young O\'Brien kid, how the damned sissy had taken off for Canada.
Further into the story, Elroy brings O?Brien face to face with Canada and provides him the opportunity to break free from the war. O?Brien is confronted with the dilemma of jumping into the water and swimming to freedom or cowering out on the opportunity and going Vietnam.
He watches his past flash before his eyes, describing ?an audience to my life, that swirl of faces along the river, and in my head I could hear people screaming at me. Traitor! They yelled. Turncoat! Pussy!? Again, man vs. himself continues to play its role and mentally anchors O?Brien down. Unable to push himself overboard, O?Brien gives into his fear of exile; ?All those eyes on me ?the town, the whole universe? and I couldn?t risk the embarrassment.? O?Brien ends up going to war, giving into his cowardice and inability to jump into the water. He left his own mindset of trying to get away all because he was intimidated by what people thought about him.
In essence, ?On the Rainy River? bends the social norm of heroism, showing that anyone can be a hero, no matter how ordinary a person is. Fighting crime and saving lives are just small parts of the true meaning of bravery and courage. Elroy was a true hero not because of his words or actions, but because of how he provoked O?Brien?s thoughts without getting involved, inspiring him to face his moral dilemma.