In an individual’s lifetime, one will be faced with many insignificant decisions, in which the path to finding the answer is effortless and clear. Most of the time, these small decisions are motivated simply by the need to act independently. However, when a situation appears where a decision will surely impact ones life forever, an individual is forced to consider more than their desire to act independently. When faced with a life changing decision, an individual may find conflict between their personal desires and what others desire of them. Although one may avoid making such an adverse decision by simply putting it off, individuals cannot prolong the decision forever as they will ultimately be forced to make a commitment. Tim OBriens short story, On the Rainy River, highlights how an individual’s desire to act independently serves as a motivation in determining ones course of action. Under the influence of social constraint, this same motivation may begin to waver. For most of his life, Tim had been motivated by his need to act independently, allowing him to come to a conclusion for a course of action. However OBrien finds himself in an adverse situation after receiving a draft notice that causes his motivation to live a normal life, to waver and dwindle.
As a normal young man with the goal of living a normal life, Tim OBrien finds motivation to live his life through his ability to act on his own. Under no pressure to make hard decisions OBrien is able to [graduate] from Macalester College (1) and is planning to continue his grad studies at Harvard (3). This clearly conveys that Tim OBrien has the freedom to choose what he wants to do with his life with no outside influences pressuring him. Motivated by acting independently, he took a modest stance against the war (2) since this stance did not require a great deal of thinking before coming to a conclusion. This was an easy decision for OBrien to make since the war was happening on another part of the world, and he could easily take an opinion on what he believed was right without being held accountable for his actions. Riding the wave of being able to act independently and not be held responsible for his actions, OBrien began to compose a few tedious and uninspired editorials for the campus newspaper (2) confirming his stance against the war. The actions that Tim OBrien followed were harmless decisions motivated by following his own self interest, these decisions were ones easily justified without too much contemplation since it would not impact his life forever.
After receiving the draft notice in the mail, Tim OBriens motivations begin to waver under the pressure of social expectations. Initially after receiving the notice to go to war OBrien is compelled by the thought of serving his own self interest, that [he] was too good for this war (2). Strong at first, his desire for independence leads him to think of avoiding war at all costs. However realizing the decision he is about to make will impact him for the rest of his life Tim OBrien finds himself in between a moral split (5). On one side, follow his desires to live a mainstream life (9) with all the ordinary dreams and ambitions (9) or go to war being seen as the courageous and freedom upholding soldier of America. The societal expectations continue to eat away at OBriens motivation as he fears the comments being the damned sissy [who] had taken off for Canada (5). The severity and importance of the decision that is placed in front of OBrien causes him to be overwhelmed and unable to make a committed course of action that will follow him for the rest of his life.
After remaining in a moral deadlock for some time, something inside of Tim OBrien snaps, and he flees towards Canada leaving behind his town, family and the war. Through his decision to [drive] north (6) it can be seen as OBrien finally taking a course of action to follow his freedom and independence as he flees towards Canada. The fact that Tim OBrien is focusing on what truly motivates himself and is disregarding the social expectations that he felt he was required to follow. However it should be seen as Tim OBrien trying to avoid making a decision that will forever impact his life. This is evident as he just drove, not aiming at anything (7) after supposedly making a decision to give up bending to societal expectations by fleeing to Canada. Knowing fleeing was like running a dead-end maze–no way out of it (6) he continued to push himself further away from making a decision. Tim OBrien and the reader know all too well that eventually he will hit a wall and the dilemma he had been running away from will catch up to him. Tim OBriens procrastination towards coming to a firm and sound decision exhibits the effect that social constraints have on his now wavering motivation.
Recognizing that Tim OBrien is avoiding making a decision, Elroy Berdahl brings OBrien to the river, forcing him to make a commitment which will impact him for the rest of his life. Given the chance to head to Canada OBrien is left to decide what truly motivates him, however his motivation to be free has dwindled to where he is stuck in a moral freeze (14). Allowing society to dictate what motivates his actions, [he then] submitted (16). The influence of societal expectations caused Tim OBriens motivation to be eroded and withered, finally causing him to make a decision that was not right for him. This is evident as he states he had to live with it, feeling the shame (1) for over 20 years of his life. Unhappy with his decision, because he had allowed society to dig up under his skin, Tim OBrien feeling like a coward. [he] went to war (16). The irony of this shows that however OBrien went to war to fight for a good cause in the name of America he was a coward by picking the easy way out. Tim OBrien exemplifies the need for an individual to take a course of action based on their on motivation rather than having society dictate one’s life in order to avoid the feeling of regret for the rest of one’s life.
In conclusion, the choices that people make are greatly influenced by their motivations. In a dire situation the motivation that one depends on to make their decisions may be influenced by the individual’s perception of what others desire from them. As a result of the conflicting pressure to act for himself and please society, Tim OBrien comes to a conclusion to avoid the war and makes a rash decision to flee to Canada. However after his initial decision, OBrien is given time to think about his choice and societys expectations begin to erode at his motivation. Eventually OBrien gives up on his initial decision which causes Tim OBrien to regret for the rest of his life feeling the shame (1) of giving up. This highlights how an individual may be motivated by their desire to act independently, however social constraints may cause ones motivation to dwindle until nothing remains. When making a life changing decision, it is important for individuals to prioritize the motivations that drive them to make a decision. Allowing factors that one does not agree with to influence one’s motivation will only result in regret and embarrassment that an individual will have to live with for the rest of their life.