The Things They Carried: Tim O’Brien
The things they carried by O’Brien gives an analysis of the Vietnam War and how the writer endures the disappointments of the typical values that go with the war. O’Brien demonstrates that several items could be carried by the soldiers to remind them of the normal lives as well as the life they left back home. These things the writer says were “determined by necessity” (O’Brien 1103). O’Brien becomes the most difficult character in the story since we see him at three diverse phases of progression; O’Brien the writer, the soldier and O’Brien, as the young boy. These characters possess different thoughts emotions and understanding which are in conflict with one another.
One of the things that O’Brien reveals is that normalcy is not available in the combat zone and what keep the soldiers from running mad are the things that can remind them of normal lives in the battlefield .The novel starts with a simple story of the things that the soldiers carried as they marched to the war. The topics seem rather difficult for the author to explore. He lists them in a way so as to explain the experience of the Vietnam War in a way that is far-away from the present, presenting himself as a person who is not so much affected by the war. O’Brien ridicules himself as a common coward and then solicits sympathy from the writers (Moris)
The most crucial is the organization and feel of the events given, beginning with the innocent actions and going to the brutal activities, all which are made to prepare the discussion of the big burdens that were the main issues in their psychological transformation that they came across during the war. As a result it becomes clear that the things that they carried were not things at all, but were emotional baggage that occupied them. These things were intangible: fear, grief, love, and longing of the soldiers who might lose their lives in battle.
These intangibles things had their own weight and significance. They went with them shameful reminders, fearfulness….they went with soldiers fear (O’Brien 21). Coming across a passage like this , the reader is taken aback to identify with the soldiers who as a result of the details provided by the author are presumed to be like people we interact with daily, people with real emotions and real issues, the real things that they carried. Just like a heavy load of bricks can make one tired, so is with the emotional burden that the soldiers carried, which is the main factor that leads them to change their characters. O’Brien would like the reader to see his side of life as a young lad and how good life was back at home. He had no guilt feeling of killing anyone one although he had learned to accept death as a young boy.
O’Brien(114) observed that “You start off clean and you get dirty and then afterward its never the same again” In our everyday life, we are overburdened by the things we encounter within our environment and as time goes by we become part of the problem we are trying so much to avoid. We are good at the moment but later we turn to be savages.
The things they carried is not an antiwar story rather it is written to reveal the truth. The things they carried has vivid descriptions of the things that happen in time of war and those things are real. Soldiers go the war with dangerous weapons such as grenade launchers, machine guns and assault riffles. In addition they also go with everyday common items such as a chewing gum and candy into the battlefield. This is how the writer makes these soldiers real to all of us, since in effect, these soldiers are just like us (Hoffman).
Nevertheless the story is made to show the readers that there are things that the soldiers go with to the war; memories grief love and also “the secret of cowardice” (O’Brien). In addition they carried the soldiers’ greatest fear which was the “fear of feeling embarrassed, men killed in war because they were embarrassed not to” (O’Brien). These are normal and the same ordinary people who are required to perform ugly activities in the name of war. Though he had accepted death he hates to kill, he does not like the war.
O’Brien makes use of short images of the things that the soldiers carried in order to create recognizable images in the minds of the readers. The reader is able to recognize and remember these soldiers by looking at the things that they carried. For instance Jimmy Cross carries letters and photographs of a girl named Martha so as to let the reader see the affection he has for her.
Cross would imagine walking with Martha, having sex with her, and being pleased with her company. To him the photographs represented hope romance and affection and a sweat return to home. The artifacts that they go with to the war seem to speak for themselves. O’Brien makes us to really have a feeling for Lieutenant Cross since he goes to war with the lives of these men in his hands (Hoffman).
Another character, Kiowa always had his bible with him. At one time he “opened his New Testament bible and arranged it beneath his head as pillow” (O’Brien 16). The bible was a good reminder of peace and order to him. Although the men were grown up they carried some sort of a security blanket. Lavender had some sort of fear and he carried “six or seven ounces of premium dope,” additional bullets, and even sedatives (O’Brien 2). The sedatives were used to distract him from the real world. The extra grenades were kept because he was afraid that the battle would be long and he might at some point run out ammunitions. These extras were nothing more than a false hope.( Moris)
Therefore through the things they carried O’Brien becomes a very sensitive person who spend time looking for an emotional home felling that as a boy who was in love and the love he will never come across again. He mourns his loss of innocence he had as a boy and a guilt and betrayal resulting from the society whose misguided thought and beliefs sent him to kill people in war, and through these O’Brien the writer reveals his thoughts about the war and how it changed his character.
Morris Peter “The Forces That Drive Man to War.” Lopedog. 02 Sep. 2007
Hoffman A “The Things They Carried.” http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/430601/the_things_they_carried_pg3.html?cat=4 30th April 30, 2010
O’Brien, Tim “The Things They Carried” Houghton Mifflin, 1990.