Summary of “Notes”
O'Brien says the previous story was written in 1975, requested by Norman Bowker in a letter, describing his difficult life after the war. He had taken brief, meaningless jobs as a cook, a janitor, and salesman, while living with his parents. He even tried junior college, but it seemed irrelevant. He could no longer get out of bed. He was alone without friends. He feels like he died the night Kiowa died in the muck. O'Brien says that Bowker's letter hit him hard, because he himself had been able to make the transition back by going to graduate school and becoming a writer. He was able to write about the war for catharsis. He wrote the story of Norman Bowker's hard time, but three years later Norman hung himself. He was unable to come back and truly died in Vietnam.
Commentary on “Notes”
O'Brien realizes he has been able to save himself through writing. It is the only way he has been able to get people to hear his experience. Norman seems to be fixated on Kiowa's death and his failure to save him, but as comes out in the rest of the stories, no one was to blame. Each man blames himself for the death and horror that is actually beyond anyone's control. O'Brien partly blames himself for Norman's death because he did not tell his story accurately. He took part of the information and put it into a novel. He did not include the part about Kiowa's death until this retelling. O'Brien admits he had been afraid to revisit the night of Kiowa's death in the muck field. The failure to save Kiowa was not Norman's fault; it was his own fault, for the story is his own. This last cryptic remark seems to indicate that all the experiences O'Brien writes are dramatizations of his own experience.