Hannah Thomson

HONR Seminar
Dr. Arnold
22 October 2014
The Yellow Birds Reflective Essay
After reading The Yellow Birds, a fiction narrative about a man who spent a
couple years in the army and was faced with a life changing decision that left him in jail
with massive amounts of guilt, I found myself left with many unanswered question.
Throughout class discussions, discussion night with The University Honors Program, and
meet and greet nigh with the author himself, Kevin Powers, I began to find less and less
unanswered questions. Overall I found the book to be not only an emotional story, but an
informative read as well. I learned not only about the physical toll the army can take on
someone but also about the emotional toll it can take on many soldiers.
The first thing that surprised me was how agitated Bartle was when people
thanked him for his service. We first saw this happen on the plane ride home from war.
Bartle was in his seat waiting patiently for the plane to take off when over the intercom
he heard a very sincere “thank you for your service” kind of message from the captain.
Bartle was almost embarrassed by this act of acknowledgement. Personally, I feel as
though any soldier should get a thank you for what they’ve done. Every time I get the
opportunity to shake a soldiers hand I feel so honored, like I’m touching someone import
ant’s hand. When discussing this in class we came to the conclusion that soldiers may
feel like instead of helping the United States they are harming sometimes perfectly
innocent people of another country. We saw this happen in the book when Bartle and
some other soldiers shot and killed the grandparents in the moving car. The soldiers had
to do this act as a part of their service, but did those in the car really deserve to be shot
and killed? It is a very emotional topic for soldiers and citizens alike.

The second thing that really stood out to me in The Yellow Birds was the different
relationships formed. The most important relationship was that between Bartle and
Murph. Murph entered the army at the young age of eighteen. Quickly Bartle was
“assigned” to Murph to teach him the ropes and look out for him for a little while. While
at a going away banquet Bartle got the opportunity to meet Murph’s mom. This meeting
was a significant part of the book because Murphs’s mom put the pressure of looking out
for her son on Bartle. She kept emphasizing how important it was that Murph came
home to her. In my mind I kept thinking, “obviously, it’s important every soldier goes
home to his or her loved ones!” I think Kevin Powers added this important meeting into
the book to emphasize how much Murph indeed looked up to Bartle for guidance and
care. Bartle now had the weight on his soldiers of not only looking out for himself but
another soldier as well. In the end Bartle made a decision to protect the emotions of
Murph’s mom, unfortunately this decision came back and destroyed Bartle and he ended
up in jail. When discussing relationships among characters in the UHP discussion and
class discussion we tended to spend the majority of our time on Bartle and Murph’s
relationship since it influenced the book in so many ways! The example I used above
was just one of many of the examples that their relationship shaped.
The last thing that affected me was the intensity of the war. Like most others we
have never and probably never will see what a true war zone looks like. The images
portrayed in this novel helped to give me an idea, but I don’t believe I will ever fully
understand. I cannot image having back to back sleepless nights, listening to gun shots
going off, hoping and praying that the gun shots wouldn’t get any closer. The amount of
stress and pressure these soldiers face everyday most of us will never experience.

Hannah Thomson
HONR Seminar
Dr. Arnold
22 October 2014
Reading about all that these soldiers went through made me form a newfound
appreciation for them. I have always thought of them as America’s heroes, but after
reading The Yellow Birds I have a slight glimpse of what they go through. I have a
friend who is attending The West Point Academy in New York and since reading this
book I have thanked him for what his future holds. No one has a more stressful, but
rewarding job than those that serve our great country.
Overall I found this book to be very informative for a girl who has never read a
military book. Getting to learn all about what they go through and the different situations
they are put in helped me to appreciate soldiers even more. By participating in the class
discussion, discussion night with UHP, and meet and greet night with the author himself,
Kevin Powers, I found myself not reading the book because I had to but reading and
understanding it because I wanted to.