It is common knowledge that life is filled with difficult decisions; decisions that will be tough to get through. Even characters of books have hard decisions they must make, and even though they may not be real, the characters in the novels and stories have to make choices for what they believe is best for their current situation. In the end, one must make a decision even if it destroys him. The process of destruction within ones mind begins with one decision. Tim O’Brien’s decision is that to make the break to Canada after seeing he drafted into the military. O’Brien’s draft began to make him think “seriously about Canada . . . Both [his] conscience and instinct were telling [him] to make a [run] for it” (O’Brien 175), but he refused the urge. He fought against everything that was telling him to go and stayed in the U.S., but the choice was tearing him apart. O’Brien wanted to go over the border, but his friends and family were all telling him to go to war, and the only thing that was keeping him in the States was his embarrassment of what others would think of him for being a coward and putting himself before his country.
Sometimes, it does not matter what others think of one for his actions, but rather what one does to himself and others that matters. For the boys were stuck on island, they made the decision to steal, and when they decided to “take the fire from the others” (Golding 161) they made the first choice that started the catastrophic chain of events on the island. They choose to do something that was totally unlike them, something that the boys never would have done under any normal circumstance, but to them it seemed like the best decision at the time. Because the boy’s theft ended in victory, it made all the boys on the island see that this was a successful way to achieve their needs. Of all the characters, Paul’s tale tells a more dramatic experience. Paul describes it as “[Laying] under the network of arching shells and [living] in a suspense of uncertainty” (Remarque 101), and when he tells us how he has to sit and wait, and do nothing as chaos is around him, he has to fight all his instincts just like O’Brien and Ralph. He had to fight every muscle in his body telling him to run away from the danger and to make it to safety. Unfortunately for Paul, this was not a one-time decision like for the others.
Paul sat in one spot and do absolutely nothing day after day, week after week as he watched and heard his comrades die. The constant moral warfare that Paul and the others were putting themselves through was not without effect. The toll these decisions took on them is soon apparent. For the individuals, the moral dilemma they have created for themselves becomes apparent. Tim O’Brien began to break down psychologically, and “[his] emotions went from outrage to terror to bewilderment to guilt to sorrow and then back again to outrage” (176, O’Brien). His mind’s decision to make a break for Canada was breaking him down mentally to a point where he could no longer control his emotions. Everything O’Brien thought off always related back to escaping to Canada, but he simply could not bring himself to run to the Border. O’Brien was going to go insane or reach his mind’s breaking point if he were to continue living like this. Little Henry was just a child and had barely started his life, and yet he too was affected by the chaos on the island.
The once innocent boy was becoming “absorbed beyond mere happiness as he felt himself exercising control over living things” (61, Golding). As Henry was losing control over his mind he resorted to taking control of smaller things, such as ants, by poking them with sticks. Henry is hoping that by being a puppeteer of smaller creatures he can replace his need for self-control with the control of other animals and objects, and maybe in the future, the control of other people. This change from innocence to controlling is a clear sign of the psychological effect of all the change brought on by the boys’ decisions. Paul has undergone the biggest metamorphosis because of all the traumatic events that lead up to and following his biggest moral decision. One of these decisions was Paul coming face to face with the enemy and killing him.
Paul met the enemy in a shell hole, and when Paul was forced to kill the enemy solder, he saw that “[the solider] is a man like [himself]” (223 Remarque). Paul is finally getting to see what is happening in the war, and that every decision he has made while out on the front has an impact on more people than just himself. When he killed Gerard, Paul got a personal look at one of the other people who’s live he has affected. The information is too much for Paul to cope with at the time, so it tears at his mind. Everything he has known is forgotten and he can think of nothing but the man. Paul could no longer see any bit of hope for himself, and neither Henry, O’Brien, nor any other boy on the island. Their choices had led them to the path to their own self-destruction. After enough time has passed, everything is lost for the individual. For the boys lost on the island, this occurred when “the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist” (181 Golding).
The conch was the last piece of civilization that the boys had, and when that shattered the last hope for the boys to have civilized lives on the island was gone as well. The boys went into a maniacal frenzy after the loss of the shell and split off into separate groups. The groups behaved more like savages that had never seen a city before rather than a group of lost boys; When they finally got back to the real world with the arrival of the soldiers, they had almost forgotten what was outside the island. Tim O’Brien had also reached his limit; with one last look at Canada, “[he] submitted… [He] sat in the bow of the boat and cried [loud and hard]” (186 O’Brien). His mind had been broken, and Tim O’Brien, a man who, until this point, had been strong, broke down into tears. He cried because there was nothing else he could do to save himself from the inevitable departure for war. Everything he had known would be washed away when he went to war, and his education and achievements would mean nothing.
Paul too had nothing left for him after the war and everything he had been put through. Paul has nothing left to live or die for, and no longer fears the enemy because they “can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear” (295, Remarque). Paul no longer has anything to fight for, and so he dies because of the lack of will power to survive and his lack of reason. He has been stripped of everything that he knows and loves because of the constant battle he was fighting both literally and metaphorically. This loss of reason is the cause of the other character’s outbreaks into chaos. The once seeming less decisions have turned into a growing mental battle that proved to be almost the end of them. Combined with the stress of the characters’ situation, it is possible to see how making one, conflicting, moral decision can lead to metal breakdown. This one decision can be the trigger to a series of more psychologically challenging problems for oneself. These strong, morally conflicting must be dealt with properly, for the effect of not doing so is seen all too well.