The Things They Carried
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien appears to be a war story about items a platoon of soldiers carried while in Vietnam. The story actually centers around the death of one of the platoon members and the horrible conditions of Vietnam. But the author goes into a deeper, hidden meaning of the things.He subtly expresses the ideas that the soldiers carried with them more than just hear, they carried the items from back home, emotional baggage,and the death of their fellow comrades. And the pain and horror they have to endure is only bearable with these items and the symbolism of hope they have with them. Because with each item they carry the hope of returning home and the hope of making it back home the same person.In the unforgivable wilderness of Vietnam,the young soldiers are forced to carry heavy artillery and supplies.
Still these terrified men go up the extra weight to take letters,pictures, and other things that remind them of the people back at home. These things can be weighed in 40 pounds and ounces and put a strong physical strain of the soldiers.. However, the emotional burdens Tim O’Brien describes in “The Things They Carried” are the most difficult weights they have to bear. O’Brien lists the required supplies carried by all of the soldiers and gives examples of the personal things each soldier chooses “to hump”, which means “to march” or “to walk” (137).
O’Brien gives great detail of the internal, emotional struggles that weigh so heavily on the Lieutenant. Cross physically carries letters, photographs and a “simple pebble, an ounce at most” all given to him by a junior at Mount Sebastian College, named Martha (The Things They Carried 12). All things considered, considering the unending risk they look in Vietnam, the psychological weight each man worries about is a significantly heavier concern.. “Grief, terror, love, longing- these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight” (The Things They Carried 9). Long after the heavy artillery fire and gunshots cracking through the air, some of the pressure of the war is lifted from their shoulders,but the emotional scars will remainO’Brien doesn’t offer as much detail into the emotional baggage carried by Cross” men, but each of the soldiers carried with them something from home. Kiowa carries a copy of the Old Testament, which was given to him by his father (The Things They Carried O’Brien 22). He is also carries the tremendous weight of “his grandmother’s distrust for the white man” and a hunting hatchet (The Things They CarriedO’Brien 22). These emotional and physical items imply that Kiowa, who is Native American, struggles to put the vital trust into his allies, as a result of his upbringing.Dave Jensen, who carries extra socks,high carotene vitamins, foot powder,and ear plugs, seems to have an staggering fear of disease.
Mitchell Sanders carries condoms, which doesn’t make sense or offer any insight however, be that as it may, he is additionally the soilder who cuts the thumb off of a young Vietcong and gives it to another soldier, Norman Bowker (Speaking Of Courage O’Brien 142). The demonstration of removing a young man’s thumb and after that kicking him in the head shows that Sanders is battling with some emotional instability, and a lack of respect for life.These issues might be an immediate aftereffect of the war, or may have been present before in his life.The impacts of these physiological battles is outlined by Cross” failure to control his fantasies about Martha. He gets himself unfit to concentrate on the dangers around him, even as Lee Strunk is looking through the passages in Than Khe, confronting unknown dangers. lieutenant Cross loses himself in a daydream. Through a war there will be a lot of bloodshed, the enemies and even yours. With all the gunfire and shots being fired, people dropping you have no time for grievance. But after a while when you one one by one your friends die, the burden of living with that, the doubt of if you could of saved him or not. All of that starts to pile up and slowly unravel you.
In The Things They Carried many people had to watch as their friends died Curt Lemon being the first. Trying to make some sense of the war or relieving the tension Kurt started playing toss with a smoke grenade with Rat Kiley. Then he stepped on a landmine and blew up. And after seeing so much death you become numb and feel no agony, you slowly start to lose it. Jensen and O’Brien were ordered to climb the tree to retrieve Lemon’s body, and Jensen sang “Lemon Tree” as they threw down the body parts.(182 “How to Tell a True War Story”) The fact that a friend dying out of nowhere doesn’t cause tears, doesn’t cause concern shows how war breaks you. When someone you know dying isn’t a big deal because people die everyday, you start to cope with it in different ways. In this case jenson started singing as he picked up his friend’s body parts.And after that Ted Lavender was the second body to hit the floor. Ted lavender just went out to take a piss and then a crack ripped through the air, his friends watching him drop, lying in a pool of blood. This causes Jimmy cross to start blaming himself for his death. “He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war”. (The Things They Carried.16)
This haunts Jimmy Cross through the book. All of these characters are haunted by guilt, looking for someone or something to blame. They are shattered into pieces scattered across the battlefield. Cracking jokes about the death of comrades, trying to cope, or find meaning in the death of the war. When you hear of war stories you never hear of the death, or the excruciating toll it has on your mind and your body. The guilt, emotional baggage and simple watching as your friends drop one by one can break a man. All of this stuff piled on causes you to lose yourself, act like someone your not. You cling on to anything so that you don’t lose it, or fall down into the black. Just how each soldier brought something with them, carried it wherever they went. They carried the objects from home, but they also carried the weight of the war on their soldiers.
An Analysis and Comparison of the Characters of Chris McCandless and Tim O’Brien in Into the Wild and The Things They Carried
Into the Wild & The Things They Carried
Into the wild is about a young man name Chris McCandless otherwise known as Alex, who is a transcendental. In the beginning of the book, Alex grew up in a very puritanical family but Alex becomes rebellious and transcendentalism as he runs away from his family and his life as Christopher McCandless. Alex growing up in the 1980s created a different outlook on life because at this time, there weren’t too many people who were rebellious. No one (overall) was really transcendental. Alex was the first modern day Transcendental hero. Around this time people were still living by puritan beliefs so it was very unlikely and unheard of for a person to go and do all of the things Alex had done. When Alex was floating down the river he was romantic. He knew he wasn’t suppose to do it, he could’ve turned around and went home, but when he did this, he enjoyed it and didn’t care too much of the consequences. Chris wasn’t completely out of it, he went to college, maintain almost perfect grades, never partied and made the mistakes teenagers usually make, and he was very focused on the things he wanted to obtain in life. He lived by, “If you want something in this life, reach out and grab it.” Alex made many mistakes as everyone does in life, but unlike many people who give up on the things they want or are afraid to go after what they want because they’re afraid of what society will say, Alex wasn’t. He went after everything he wanted and would not let anyone tell him otherwise.
In chapter 11, his family mentions, “always trying to pull him away from the edge.” In chapters 4 and 5 Alex gets arrested, visits Arizona, goes to Mexico, spends a night in jail, and quits his job at McDonalds because they made him wear socks, and not once did Alex show any regret in running away. Chapters 7 and 8 show how Alex is a romantic as he builds many close relationships with the people he comes in contact with. Although it is easy for him to let go and move on from these people’s lives, he is attached because he tells them he will come back when he comes back from Alaska. I believe Alex meets realism when he comes to reality that everything can’t go as he plans and he begins dying. When Westberg tells Alex that he can buy him a plane ticket to Fairbanks to work a little longer and make it Alaska by the end of April, Alex tells him, “No, I want to hitch north. Flying would be cheating. It would wreck the whole trip.” Alex claiming that this is cheating and him wanting to do things on his own, proves Alex is transcendental. At the end is where Alex puritanical and realism side comes out when he signs his name one last time and as Chris McCandless. At this moment, he wants life. He wants his life back.
The Thing They Carried is about Tim O’Brien, a young man who is very puritanical and represents realism and rational beliefs. Tim O’Brien grew up in a puritanical family, graduating from high school and attending college. Tim receives a letter that he must take place fighting in a war. Tim O’Brien is not happy at all when he hears of this. He doesn’t want to fight in war because he feel he is too good for war. Tim O’Brien claimed to be too good for war because he is smart and because he hated camping out. Due to Tim’s puritanical beliefs and fear of having to be looked down upon, he fights in war. Tim is very fortunate to have survived the war, but in his mind he is dead. He suffers deeply because of the things he had to see and the things he had to do, which only makes him cry. Tim was rational because of the reasons he had for not deserving to be forced into fighting in war. To some, Tim’s reasons may seem ridiculous and make him sound foolish or even fearful, but Tim’s reasons were pretty reasonable and understanding. He felt certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons. He saw no unity of purpose, no consensus on matters of philosophy or history or law. He felt war just wasn’t necessary and could really damage lives because once people are dead, you can’t make them undead. Tim is stating everything that every man who went to war can’t express themselves. No matter how strong men act when they return home from war, deep down inside they are damaged and weak. O’Brien was running away from his life that is too complicated to cope with. In many ways, these reasons were very good reasons to do so.
Alex and Tim were very alike in many ways but also very different. Alex was running away from the life he didn’t want while Tim was holding tight to the life he had to leave. Alex and Tim are both puritanical as they worked hard in high school and college, shaping them into intelligent young men. Alex had the life he didn’t want but Tim wanted, which was freedom, to finish college, and live a great life having great fortune. Alex wanted the truth, while Tim had experienced the truth which is reality at war. Alex and Tim both kept their feelings inside and never spoke up about how they felt about their situations to their families. They just decided to deal with the lives they were given and to cope with it which way they felt was best. Tim had a choice to not fight in war and flee to a different country (which would have resulted in consequences eventually), but the puritanical beliefs in him made him do what he KNEW was “right” so he went to war. Alex was the exact opposite, he didn’t follow his puritanical beliefs, he went rebelled against everything and everyone and did what he FELT was right. Tim survived his battle and physically survived but mentally didn’t which is why he is emotionally damaged. Alex didn’t survive his battle and remains emotionally damaged because he never got to discuss it all with his parents and by then it is too late. Alex was who Tim wish he could have been. He wished he could have been as rebellious as Alex to say no to war and express his beliefs As you can see, the two are very alike but still remain somewhat different. Alex is the transcendental young man that Tim couldn’t find the strength to be. Tim was the puritanical, rational young man Alex refused to be. Both young men came to reality at the end of their wars and became realistic in which they thought.
The Point of View of a Vietnam War Soldier Through the Use of Imagery, Tone, and Syntax in The Things They Carried, a Novel by Tim O’Brien
War is a devastating and dramatic experience for soldiers. Their conditions, both physical and psychological, were nothing short of horrendous. In Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, he depicts life from the point of view of a soldier during the Vietnam War. Through his use of imagery, tone, and syntax, O’Brien portrays the ambiguity and robotic methodology of war, juxtaposing the many things the soldiers carry physically with the burden they carry emotionally.
They are described as mules and freight trains, carrying baggage and moving on to their next programmed stop. For what reason they don’t know yet they push forward simply because they were told to. They walk through the Vietnam soil that O’Brien describes as a “powdery orange-red dust” that covered their boots and faces. Agent Orange; the orange-red dust that would possibly give them a myriad of cancers, Hodgkin’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or many other life altering diseases. This novel has profoundly detailed descriptions, making them very powerful. He uses the description in a metaphoric way. He tells of the unnecessary physical possessions they all carry on their backs along with other feelings of sentimental strain they carry inside. With the detailed description of the things they carried, O’Brien makes powerful statements about the men who fought in the Vietnam War alongside him. The things the soldiers carried in Vietnam obviously stuck with them throughout their lives.
The tone of the novel is cynical and distanced. He doesn’t include himself when he mentions the things they carried. The reader can assume it is because he too has been terribly burdened by this war and it pains him to talk about it. “They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carries the land itself─ Vietnam, the place…The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it they carried gravity.” The narrator tells us of how the land of Vietnam affected the soldiers physically. Their experience on this land, a choice that was made for them that gave them such critical diseases. The metaphor of the soldiers carrying the sky and the atmosphere it shows that the war will be ingrained into them. They were changed physically and emotionally and ended up being scarred for life. He emphasizes the purposelessness of their actions. Saying that when ravaging a village sometimes they would start a fire or maybe sometimes they wouldn’t. This highlights the unnecessary destruction the war did to the land physically and to the soldiers psychologically.
The syntax O’Brien uses is a pattern of one long drawn-out sentence followed by short, frank ones. This shows the prolonged hardships he went through and the abrupt stops show the reality of his war experience. He tries to get past it.With the abrupt stop and new, short sentence that follows, the reader can understand that what he feels is real and he has been burdened by his time in Vietnam for his whole life. One sentence about the soldiers plodding along slowly and dumbly is stretched for nine lines before it comes to a halt. He described the loss of their patriotism, the loss of their desire, their hope, their sensibility, their intellect.
In his novel The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien describes a group of soldiers marching through Vietnam carrying the basic “necessities” for survival in the Vietnam War. But they also carry memories, and fears, and burdens more than their tangible items. The weight of this abstract baggage is as real as that of anything on their backs, and unlike those physical objects, they are not so easily cast away. O’Brien says “for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss of things to carry.”
Rationalizing the Fear Within
Both The Things They Carried and Apocalypse Now explore the trauma of the Vietnam War and its influence on soldiers’ fears. Similar characters appear in both works, their identities crafted to represent different aspects of human nature. The protagonists, Captain Willard and Tim O’Brien, tell frame stories through their own points of view, giving the audience windows to the guilt and hollowness, death and savagery rife in war-torn Vietnam. Each finds himself suffocated by guilt, choking at an explanation for the endless, meaningless death and violence. Similarly, Chef, the private on Willard’s boat, and Curt Lemon of O’Brien’s platoon mirror each other with their immaturity, their carefree rambunctious behavior and their gruesome, avoidable deaths. With the protagonist of each story as its guide, the audience examines the degree to which fear and primal instincts consume the soldiers in the jungle. Fear in the hearts of men grows unhindered in each work, as both Willard and O’Brien strive to tell their stories as much as to placate their own fear of guilt and responsibility as to comment on the fear of others. The two works spin strikingly similar stories of insanity, guilt, and trauma, albeit through different media.
Initially, the methods of storytelling employed by each protagonist seem to be completely dissimilar: Willard’s moves with the action, a first person account of the happenings as they take place, while O’Brien’s jumps around from being with the action to reflecting upon it twenty years later. However, taken from a different angle, Willard’s narration shows as much reflection on events and personal emotion as O’Brien’s. Both narrators are jaded by the action they have seen, displayed by the way each can instantly discern what sorts of people make his company. O’Brien analyzes each of his characters through descriptions of their belongings and habits, ultimately crafting a telling portrait of each man. Likewise, Willard introduces the crew of his ship by painting their identities with a broad brush: Lance, the young surfer, Chef, the down south saucier, etc. As they move from soldier to soldier, Willard and O’Brien create indelible images in the mind of the audience, colorful personas that command pity, sympathy, and loathing.
Both Willard and O’Brien have difficulty understanding the enemy. When reading the dossier on Kurtz, Willard’s voiceover reveals his thoughts and emotions about Kurtz’s life and sudden, erratic decisions; in “Ambush,” O’Brien does the same when talking about the man he killed. O’Brien tries to imagine what the man’s life would have been like were it not for the grenade, and even gives an objective point of view and he hypothetically tells the story to his daughter. The blend of surmise and objectivity of O’Brien’s account in “Ambush” bears resemblance to Willard’s interactions with Kurtz. Like O’Brien, Willard attempts to put himself in Kurtz’s shoes, wondering if the thirst for action could turn him native and savage, as it did the colonel. Yet in each case, the protagonist falters when attempting to understand his enemy, and essentially makes the title “enemy” a misnomer. Illuminating one of the problems with the concept of war, both Willard and O’Brien sympathize with the men they are orders to kill and add difficulty to a simple task. The struggle to rationalize the act of killing is hardest for O’Brien, as the Vietnamese man was an innocent compared to the monster of Colonel Kurtz. Willard, on the other hand, sympathizes with Kurtz because he has taken the same path as his enemy, and feels the same potential for evil inside of himself. In both works, the frame story structure reveals the attempts of the protagonist to rationalize the horror around them.
Fear, the impetus of survival, has a pronounced role in both Apocalypse Now and The Things They Carried. Their machismo makes soldiers attempt to mask their fear, thereby allowing it to grow within them. Attempting to deny their fear makes soldiers act illogically, almost turning them “savage” in the end. As O’Brien describes in “The Dentist”, Curt Lemon insists on having a perfectly good tooth pulled because he fears ridicule by his peers and superiors so deeply. He had shamed himself by fainting during a routine military checkup and needed to reclaim his toughness by showing that he could withstand the pulling of a tooth, regardless of whether or not he needed that tooth to be pulled. Similarly, Lemon’s last action – playing catch with a hand grenade – illustrates the juxtaposition of war and camaraderie, the morbid fun in which the soldiers engage to sustain an illusion of safety.
Just as Lemon’s inherent fear causes him to behave in insane ways, so does that of Chef, the saucier onboard Willard’s boat. Chef’s death at the hands of Kurtz’s savages takes place off screen, leading to a scene depicting his mangled corpse. Like Lemon’s death, Chef’s is brief and gruesome, and overshadows the rest of his life. Prior to his gruesome exit, Chef loses touch with reality on the river when he decides to look for fruit in the jungle. As Chef and Willard run off into enemy territory, risking their lives only to look for mangoes, they too submit their will to the illogical judgment of fear. The fear inside them, stoked by the savage passions of the jungle and the war around them, instills and Chef and Willard the desire for safety, the need to revert to familiar surroundings to assuage the trauma of Vietnam. The jungle’s wildness consumes them on this fruitless quest, and the two soldiers flee from a tiger. The tiger, like the grenade, presents a force of reckoning to the men. It destroys the illusion of safety created by temporary peace, the lull between bouts of combat. The tiger throws Chef and Willard back into ugly reality, and the men forget their mangoes back on the Me-Kong. Their fears, and those of all soldiers, eventually come down to one thing – the fear of death.
As their fears deepen in the forests of Vietnam, all the man become less human. In O’Brien’s stories, ignorant actions reveal the savage nature some of the men have developed. Kiley blows his own toe off to get out of action, for instance, and Lee Strunk begs Jensen to spare his life regardless of their pact. Apocalypse Now delves much further into the evolution of fear, as Kurtz represents an embodiment of fear itself. Once an eloquent, highly respected war hero, Colonel Kurtz devolves into a mind irreparably twisted and contorted by fear and evil. Kurtz’s evil forces Willard to consider whether he himself has the capacity for the same. Though O’Brien’s stories posses nothing as cohesive as the fear consolidated in Kurtz, many of their characters embody similar traits. Azar, for example, exudes wholly mercenary qualities throughout much of his time, showing blatant disregard for the value of life before showing deference to Kiowa’s memory.
In the end, both mental and physical survival depends on soldiers’ ability to sort out his fears. O’Brien does this via his writing, feeling that preserving the memories of fallen friends can alleviate his guilt. Willard, however, submits to his fears, fulfilling his duty and slaying the evil Kurtz. Exiting the colonel’s temple shirtless and sweating, chest heaving in the heat of the jungle and wild eyes flashing upon legions of native people, he resembles an idol. As he mutters the same last words Kurtz did – “The horror” – Willard shows how the experience has changed him. While O’Brien exorcized his fears by writing about them, Willard’s clearly remain.
The war itself deserves credit for any similarities between these two works. War, as an institution, commands men to act against their nature. Men are not supposed to kill each other for reasons unknown, blow off their own toes to escape confrontation, or rip out their own good teeth. They are not supposed to mount severed human heads on posts or decimate a village so one man can surf. War makes them do these things. Apocalypse Now and The Things They Carried look closely at how war contorts the mind of a soldier, amplifying his fears into insanity. Using similar characters and techniques, each work produces a unique image of what war did to soldiers in Vietnam.
Time of Luck: The Random Nature of Survival in O’Brien’s Text
In the novel The Things They Carried, author Tim O’Brien demonstrates many ideas about war, survival, corruption, and powerlessness through his collection of short stories. Throughout his book, O’Brien describes many incidents that happen merely because of chance and luck. In these short stories, O’Brien teaches that it is impossible to generalize about war. In a dark irony, war is awful but is not always awful because war corrupts soldiers, but at the same time makes the soldiers feel alive. One central idea that O’Brien writes about that soldiers are powerless over their own survival in the face of war, and that the fate of a soldier is down to chance and luck.
This theme of survival based on luck is shown several times throughout the novel, in instances where a soldier’s survival was purely dependent on chance and luck. In one particular story, O’Brien writes about a soldier who never was injured: “Dobbins was invulnerable. Never wounded, never a scratch. In August, he tripped a Bouncing Betty [a landmine], which failed to detonate. A week later he got caught in the open during a fierce little firefight, no cover at all, he just breathed deep and let the magic do its work” (O’Brien 112). O’Brien writes about a soldier named Henry Dobbins who survived without any injury purely because of chance. When Curt Lemon steps on the landmine, he dies, but when Dobbins steps on a landmine, it fails to explode. Neither of these men did anything different, and yet one lives and one dies, revealing the prominent theme of chance in the book.
Another scene in which the theme of chance is clear occurs after Kiowa’s death: “You could blame the war. You could blame the idiots who made the war. You could blame Kiowa for going to it. You could blame the rain. You could blame the field, the mud, the climate…You could blame the munitions makers or Karl Marx of a trick of fate or an old man in Omaha who forgot to vote.” (O’Brien 169-170). After Kiowa’s death, O’Brien describes all the things one could blame for his death. The fact that it is possible to blame so many things for Kiowa’s death demonstrates that many factors had to be present for Kiowa’s death. If just a few of these factors had been changed, it is very well possible that Kiowa would have survived the war. Consequently, Kiowa’s death was based purely on chance because the presence of many of these factors is based on chance.
Many of O’Brien’s stories relate to the overall theme of the powerlessness of a soldier in war. A soldier’s life is dependent on chance and luck to the point where the soldiers have little to no say in whether they live or die. This idea is present in Jimmy Cross’s thoughts after Kiowa’s death: “In his head he [Jimmy Cross] was revising the letter to Kiowa’s father. Impersonal this time. An officer expressing an officer’s condolences. No apologies were necessary, because it [Kiowa’s death] was one of those freak things, and the war was full of freaks, and nothing could ever change it anyway.” (O’Brien 169). Kiowa’s fate was purely based on chance. In order for Kiowa to have died, a few things must have happened. First, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross had to make the mistake of obeying his superiors rather than his own instinct. Second, the place they chose had to be the village toilet, in low ground and vulnerable to enemy fire. Third, it had to have been Kiowa who died. These chance factors demonstrate how Kiowa’s death was merely a result of a few random happenings. Had one of these factors not happened, Kiowa may have survived the war.
O’Brien’s description of the heavy mortar rounds hammering the blind and confused platoon in the dark displays that it could have been any of the soldiers who died. This theme is present every time O’Brien writes about fellow soldiers dying; in fact, this idea is present whenever O’Brien recounts the boredom the soldier’s felt during parts of the war, and is used extensively throughout the book. O’Brien also establishes that the soldier’s understood their own powerlessness over their survival. “Even in the deep bush [forest], where you could die any number of ways, the war was nakedly and aggressively boring.” (O’Brien 27-28). By saying that the war was boring, even with the fact that one could die “any number of ways,” these soldiers are bored, rather than nervous or anxious, because they realize that their survival is purely down to luck. All of these events relate to the overall theme of the powerlessness of a soldier over a soldier’s own fate in a war, because the life of a soldier is simply based on chance.
The Vietnam War In The Texts “The Things They Carried”, “Platoon”, “Apocalypse Now” & “How To Tell A True War Story
The Vietnam War was an unjustified war between South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Three million, four hundred thousand soldiers and civilians alike, died during the 20 year period of brutal war. America intervened for seemingly anemic reasons but most of the sources point to the reason being an anti-communist movement. Provoked by the Cold War occuring between Russia and America, America couldn’t afford to lose Vietnam to the communisitic government because in turn, that would lead them into the sphere of Russia’s influence. So America backed the South Vietnamese whilst Russia backed North Vietnam.
John F. Kennedy sent a team to to report on conditions in South Korea under the “Domino Theory”. The theory works by one small change creating larger and larger changes as time progresses. In this case, if Vietnam were to become a communist society, then that would eventually spread all through Asia. The Vietnam War was a televised war, the first of its kind where it allowed citizens to see what was really happening in the war. In 1967, due to the casualties of American personnel reaching 15,000+, a mass protest of roughly 35,000 demonstrators came to protest the unscrupulous reasoning of America sending military soldiers to intervene. Four texts intricately describe in detail the morality and perspective of U.S soldiers in Vietnam.
The four texts I have chosen to display this are: The Things They Carried, Platoon, Apocalypse Now & How to Tell a True War Story. All of these texts are written respectively and accurately, depicting what it was like, psychologically and physically, in a foreign country waging war on foreigners for unjustified reasoning. Four aspects, presented in all of these texts are morality, conflict, dehumanization & brutality. These are primal themes that all of humanity can relate to and understand. The use of these aspects was done brilliantly to truly display the disgusting and horrific conditions the soldiers were forced to endure. Humans are drawn to power. With power arises conflict and a judgement of morality. Personally, I think the Vietnam War had shady political agendas and the general public were misinformed. Due to this lack of clarity, it is under good reasoning why people scrutinised the U.S Government’s choice and future choices. Personally, I agree with their reasoning, although only just.
The cost that they paid with 3 million deaths and countless lives they ruined are on the other side of morality, but there is a understandable reason to why they did what they did. Although most likely fueled by mankind’s lust for power, they have their reasoning, that I agree with and can understand. Through further discussion, I may succumb to the general masses and agree that it was unjustified. Morality & ConflictThe two films, Apocalypse Now & The Things They Carried both depict great examples of the themes: morality & conflict through complex scenes or texts. Morality & conflict are all instinctively within us, we breed conflict and competition everywhere we go. It is human nature and a primitive advantage to coming out on top. As much as our society has advanced through laws and social progression in respect to other cultures and rights, still we are brutal by nature. War, even in the decline, is still prevalent and in threat of occurring even in today’s society.
Morality is consistently questioned by conflict and its ability to justify actions caused by the confliction of opposing ideologies.Morality are subjective principles that concern the distinction between right and wrong. Right or correct behaviour is determined by a ‘Golden Rule’ – treat others how you want to be treated. Right is generally the benefits of the most amount of people with as least amount of expense to other people as possible. Expense is generally determined as harm, psychological or physical, to an opposing person. For example, the 3 major categories of ‘wrong’ is: forced sexual acts, violence from the actions of one individual to another and stealing of another person’s property (theft).
These come with great expense of the victim and cause trauma to a degree, so they’re seen as morally wrong. However, giving, love, kindness, sharing, helping, etc… are seen as morally correct acts as they benefit a person or people with little to no expense of anyone else. We can see these two sides clash when the example is shifted to giving your daughter a brand new toy on Christmas, but you had to rob a store to obtain the funds. It is a kind act, but of expense to individuals or corporations, so it is seen as morally grey, where the mass of a society cannot generally agree on if what they did was wrong or right.
Psychologist spend a great majority of their practice studying empathy and morality as they are very closely linked (so I shall be referring to certain psychological principles and ideas throughout the essay). It has been humanity’s sole purpose in the animal kingdom to gain so much power and the ability to cooperate using empathy (the basis for morality), therefore eliminating competition and allowing for progression.Conflict is not solely physical aggression, it can be aggravated from simple disagreements to form a clash between two different people or ideologies.
Conflict is very prevalent in mankind’s past 3,400 years, as humans have been entirely at peace for only 268 of those years. Humans are drawn to conflict as it is one of our primary evolutionary advantages. We could have the smartest brains and the strongest bodies but without conflict, there was no will to act or progress. Look at a film for example, can you think of a film where conflict, of a psychological or physical nature, was not needed to advance the plot? Conflict is often seen as a primitive remnant of our past that used to help us in survival, but in the modern era it is just seen as a detrimental effect, especially when in consideration of morality dictating that you should not maim or kill another living being without justification. Conflict can be internal, external, against fate, inanimate objects and of course against another human being. Without conflict, there is no story, there is no driving force for progression as everyone is comfortable with where they are. But alas, humans are conflicting by nature to allow progression of one means to another.
Morality & ConflictApocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola is an ambitious film with daring camerawork, editing, acting and ambiguous plot points within the film that allows the audience to truly immerse themselves in the Vietnam War. It covers multiple themes and ideas such as the degradation of morality, the internal and external conflict of individuals, the negative view on American agenda’s and the way America operated during the Vietnam War.
A short summary of Apocalypse Now is that Captain Benjamin L. Willard is traveling up the Nong River where the majority of the film is spent. Captain Willard has been assigned by shady American officers to assassinate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz because Kurtz, as we’re told, has gone insane by surrounding himself with troops and ignoring military disciplinary action. Taking a psychoanalytic view of this movie allows us to see the descent of madness a soldier’s troubled mind goes through, a mind degraded by the conflict of war. Captain Willard possesses traces of war addiction, a lack of good morals and a degree of insanity but none of these traits directly control him but merely guide him to his fate. Kurtz and Willard are two sides of one coin in the essence that they have both fully experienced the horrific conflict of war and how their morality have been tormented by such. Because of this they hold the same evil and ideologies. They are the only two characters that have experienced the conflict of the enemy, the innocence and themselves. The only conflict between them is of who holds the harsher, darker heart.
There are three stops on their journey along the river, each implementing a new type of theme shown through an act of morality or conflict for our characters to endure. Our first stop is the dehumanization of the enemy through the love of war. The second stop is the loss of morality through the conflict of innocence. Lastly is the third stop which displays the theme of madness through the internal conflict of one’s self. For this essay I shall be focusing on our characters second stop and analyse the conflict and how it interacts with our characters sense of morality.
At the second stop our characters visit a military station in the middle of an entertainment set up for the troops. Here we see a very clear example of the lack of morality and respect for others as the conflict throughout the movie is starting to possess them. The scene opens up with the characters attending the entertainment whilst some attractive showgirls dance erotically for the soldiers. The showgirls have been shown in other scenes in posters possessed by the soldiers which display how they idolise them. However as the show progresses a fight breaks out in the crowd of soldiers as they all climb over each other to get to the playboy girls. It’s at this point we see their lack of empathy / morality as they fight internally with each other and lose respect for comradery.
This shows their lack of morality for the innocence as everyone in the show symbolises a general genre of people. Resembling the general public back home is the spokesmen in which is highlighted by the phrase, “We want to let you know that we’re thankful for what you’re doing for this country.” The showgirls are affiliated with the civilians back home and people that the soldiers are fighting for. Meaning that this analogy shows the soldiers putting the innocence and themselves in danger for stupendous reasoning due to their lack of clarity. So far it has been set up so far that these soldiers were brothers in arms who cared for each other and had decent morals. Here we start to see the tipping of the iceberg as we begin to see their selfish nature and lack of respect or attention to their fellow soldiers or disciplinary commands. We’re seeing as the soldier progresses deeper into the story, metaphorically they are burrowing deeper into themselves to explore their own evils.
One more scene to analytically dissect is with Captain Willard on the boat as they have just captured some civilians on their journey. This scene truly highlights Captain Willards progressively degrading morality as he proceeds to murder a civilian, simply because she wouldn’t stop crying. Every other soldier stands still with silence as they come to bare with what has just occurred and what, as a unit, they have become. “Your conscience is measured of the honesty of your selfishness.
”The Things They Carried – Morality & ConflictThey Things They Carried is an exceptionally well written novel developed by Tim O’Brien, depicting a gritty, realistic retelling of the journey soldiers in Vietnam took whilst having a fictitious twist to invest the reader deeper into the story. Several themes such as escapism, acceptance, morality, dehumanization and conflict are all explored with layers upon layers of complexity. The degradation of morals are explored through the characters as they find themselves within the grey area of morality. It is a common occurrence within the novel that the characters say to each other “What is the moral?” as even they are not sure of themselves. In the scene after Ted Lavender’s death, Mitchell Sanders reminisce in the memory of when they found a young Vietnamese boy, “…badly burned, flies in his mouth and eyes… He put his hand on the dead boy’s wrist. He was quiet for a time, as if counting a pulse, then he patted the stomach, almost affectionately, and used Kiowa’s hunting hatchet to remove the thumb.”
This scene perfectly highlights the degraded morality of the soldiers. Here Mitchell Sanders was with the detached thumb of a young Vietnamese child passing it around the group as if it were a souvenir. A clear disrespect for his fellow man and a clear violation of his own morality. It is almost as if the soldiers play with the idea of morality, taunting it. This could be evident by them almost mocking the idea of a story always needing a moral. Tim O’Brien utilises this technique to advocate the idea of a story not needing a moral compass. Throughout his stories he does one very simple but yet intricate concept; simply state it. As hollywood has saturated the market and minds of viewers with a status quo of storytelling, Tim O’Brien disregards this as he simply tells the reader what the war is like. Ted Lavender’s death highlights this in a dexterous manner, “right then Ted Lavender was shot in the head on his way back from peeing… Oh shit, Rat Kiley said, the guy’s dead.” The use of suddenly killing a character accompanied by a character simply responding with “Oh shit he’s dead” is a superb way to subvert a reader’s expectations whilst also immersing themselves within the story. By subverting the genre of generic war stories, Tim O’Brien inadvertently displays the raw reality of war.
External conflict of the war has warped their perceptions of reality to a child-like view, unable to comprehend the severity of what has just occured – the end of a human life. Conclusively, The Things They Carried suggest that the distinction between good and evil from a civilised society can not be implemented here. The constant brutality of war causes the concept of morality to elude them as nothing but a distant ideology. If anything, Tim O’Brien forces the reader to question if morality is real or simply an ideology humans use to stay civil. An objective truth that Tim O’Brien highlights is that morality is malleable to the scenario and thereby not a universal truth. Thematically, The Things They Carried embellishes in the idea of external conflict reflecting the internal struggle the soldiers contain within. To accomplish this idea of internal conflict, Tim O’Brien cleverly lists the items each soldier carried throughout the war to act as a physical symbol for their pain but also as a gateway to see into the soldiers mindset. We see the physical toll it takes, but emotional as well. Initially the text may be seen as a classic example of escapism, however I think there is an even deeper meaning within the conflict of the story.
The Things They Carried depicts two scenarios of man vs man and man vs self conflict. The most evident example of man vs self conflict in this story is how Lieutenant Jimmy Cross blames himself for Ted Lavender’s death. “He blamed himself… and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her.” J. Cross feels that had he not been so self centred with his thoughts, he may of been able to prevent Ted Lavender’s death. Because of this internal conflict J. Cross proceeds to burn any relic of Martha’s. A death that may or may not of been his fault has caused him to disconnect himself from his love interest and take external actions that otherwise would be unthinkable.
An exceptional example of the internal conflict of man overwhelming himself. Man vs man external conflict did also arise within the text in the scene where Lee Strunk steals Dave Jensen’s knife in which they get into a hand to hand fight over it. Dave ends up breaking Lee’s nose causing him to receive medical attention, however when Lee returns, Jensen fears for his own mortal safety and so breaks his own nose to even the playing field. What this scene shows is a clear example of external conflict causing the internal conflict of comrades. When the focus should be on working together as a unit, yet they fight amongst themselves, it is truly the greatest example of war corrupting the perception of morality. Placing it within a new field of play and changing the rules. A primary idea that Tim O’Brien seems to be captivated by is the idea of perspective. NarrativeFirst puts this idea perfectly, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
The Things They Carried Explicatory Essay
The Things They Carried is a fictional chef-d’oeuvre by Tim O’Brien, which catalogs among other things, the different things that soldiers carried to the Vietnam War. These soldiers carried emotional and physical burdens alike. Obrien notes, “They carried the emotional baggage of men who might die.
Grief, terror, love, longing-these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories…cowardice…they carried the soldier’s fear (20). The psychological effects of the Vietnam War tore the soldiers psychologically especially Lieutenant Cross.
The psychological burden of guilt surfaces immediately after the story starts. Jimmy Cross, a lieutenant enlisted to take care of the other soldiers is the victim of the guilt burden. Jimmy witnessed as a bullet broke open Lavender’s skull. Given the fact that he was the one in charge of the other soldiers’ well-being, he felt he could have done something to prevent Lavender’s death.
Unfortunately, he could do nothing at that point; Lavender was dead and gone for good. Jimmy became emotionally troubled because instead of concentrating on the security and well-being of fellow soldiers he could only think of Martha. Consequently, Lavender died due to his lack of concentration or so he thought.
Jimmy could not live up to this duty and when Lavender died before his eyes, he realized how careless he had been in executing his duties. All these feelings culminated into guilt feelings, an emotional burden that he had to bear so long as the war continued. What a terrible emotional baggage for one to carry!
Cross sincerely loved Martha and no matter how hard he tried to subdue these feelings, they resurfaced with time. This psychological burden weighed so heavily on him that at times he lost focus on the war. O’Brien observes, “He loved her so much…though painful, he wondered who had been with her that afternoon” (8).
Though painful, Jimmy decided to forget Martha completely, bear the psychological turmoil attached to it, and focus on the war. Forgetting a lover is not an easy task, it takes more than a willing heart, it takes absolute resolve, and this comes with its psychological upheavals.
Emotionally, Cross was a torn person, full of sorrows and heavy laden with emotional burdens. O’Brien deliberately explores Jimmy’s case to show the psychological burdens that the soldiers brought along together with the things they carried. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross was not alone in this predicament, as aforementioned, every soldier had his fair share of emotional baggage, as shown by the few soldiers O’Brien chose to use in The Things They Carried.
Family ties are usually very strong and separating someone from his/her family amounts to emotional torture; something that the soldiers had to live with. For instance, Kiowa, “…carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father…” (O’Brien 3). Nothing could remind Kiowa of his dad like that treasured bible; every time he saw the bible, he would remember his beloved father.
Henry Dobbins on his part carried a pair of pantyhose and he would poke his noses into the paper containing the panties from time to time. Not that Henry Dobbins loved his girlfriend’s panties; no, he missed her and this burdened him psychologically.
In conclusion, the intangible things that the soldiers carried into the Vietnam War had real weight, to some extent, heavier than the physical burdens. Jimmy Cross carried the guilt of letting Lavender die while engrossed in thoughts of his ever-elusive lover, Martha.
Kiowa carried the emotional burden of his father and grandfather and the possibility of not seeing them once again weighed heavily on him. Collectively, these soldiers experienced different forms of psychological torture, especially Cross who had to forget his lover and bear the guilt of seeing Lavender die from his carelessness.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”: Literary Analysis
The essay analyzes “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. This collection of short stories is devoted to a platoon of American soldiers who fight in the Vietnam War. The book is a powerful blend of fact and fiction that leaves the reader with a lasting impression of fear, love, and gratitude for the novel’s components. When describing the tangibles, O’Brien incorporates weight and number to force the pressures of the soldiers onto the reader.
As the plot unfolds, O’Brien moves the reader through scenes of war, telling multiple stories of love, death, and friendships combining with a narrative. More specifically, O’Brien incorporates interruptions of himself talking to us like the reader is watching a movie, and he keeps pressing pause to explain a scene that we might not have fully grasped. In this paper, a literary analysis of “The Things They Carried” will be presented to reveal the significance of the act of “listening” to its reader.
The Things They Carried: Critical Analysis and Impressions
O’Brien takes the reader through a series of repeated utterances as depicted through cyclic stories of love, war, and death vividly, engaging the reader into an active session of a movie-like scene. More importantly, several pauses are encountered throughout the story, as the author tries to explain some examples which the reader may not have otherwise understood.
Throughout the book, O’Brien tells the audience about war stories, in which some instances remain doubtful about their validity. As seen from the following quote, Tim’s war story makes the reader to render it invalid when he says the stories are mere imaginations: “The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you…..memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head….. There is the illusion of aliveness…” (O’Brien 230).
As O’Brien reveals to the reader various scenarios telling stories of death and friendship, warfare conditions, and love relationships, he incorporates disruption of himself talking to the audience as if they are watching a film. It is the author’s complex blend of fact and fiction, which takes the reader into an in-depth understanding of the underlying implication of “The Things They Carried” short stories. The analysis shows that the novel sounds more to a narrative than the story, where every twinge is factual beyond reality.
Particularly, O’Brien engrosses the reader into an active listening-like session through his utterances of vivid description of war scenarios, making the novel more involving than just mere storytelling. As seen from the quote, “If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste…then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie…” (O’Brien 68).
As has been noted, O’Brien presents severe events in fiction as a strategy to emphasize how dangerous the situation was during the time of the war. Concerning the novel’s title, the soldiers are brought out having a variety of objects and practices they carried in a foreign land they went for battle. As O’ Brien (82) utters “… It’s safe to say that in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true… Sometimes war is beautiful, sometimes it’s horrible…” there appears to be pain and happiness in war.
Though this theme may seem confusing, it takes the reader into the inner revelation of how the soldiers were undergoing a blend of experiences in which some made them happy while others saddened them. As a result, most of the unfolding in this novel ends up engaging the reader into active listening scenarios, which facilitate a deeper understanding of the underlying issues.
As it is noted, O’Brien takes the readers through a story of his current self, which seems more a story than real experience. His frequent questioning of the definition of a “true story” and what truth implies in any story engages the reader into active sessions of listening to his utterances. At the same time, the author engages the reader into a description of the numerous deaths of his champions in a repetition manner.
For instance, O’Brien (129) describes the shape of the dead man’s eye more than five times in the previous chapters. A vivid account of the author’s remarks on various events through his repetition tendency to engage the reader into the active unfolding of his intentions to write the novel emerges as a film like presentation since it requires the close attention of his utterances. By so doing, O’Brien succeeds in engaging his audience into active sessions through his blend of literary devices to present various ideas.
Also, O’Brien seems to exaggerate in his vivid accounts of the experience the soldiers in the war. Through describing the war in various dimensions, the author leaves the readers feeling burdened with hardships and turmoil that his soldiers were undergoing, though some doubt about its actual existence remains an imminent issue to his audience.
As O’Brien (75) reveals, “…and the whole war is right there in that stare. It says everything you can’t ever say…” the warfare situation seems harsh and unbearable among the soldiers, since some end up being killed with others brutalized in various ways. Notably, the act of listening in most of the author’s utterances seems quite crucial in the sense that it provides the reader with a vivid account of the happenings presented in this novel.
While describing the tangibles, O’Brien describes the entire scenario of how each character was armed with a variety of objects as they set for the war. It is the force and the weight of the flamboyant explanation of the setting to the war by the soldiers that engage the reader into more active participation in the entire scene.
For instance, “…every third or fourth person carried a Claymore antipersonnel mine – 3.5 pounds with its firing device…they carried fragmentation of grenades – 14 ounces each…they all carried at least one M-18 colored smoke grenade – 24 ounces…” (O’Brien 7).
Quite significantly, the use of repetition in this extract seems to engross the reader into a more precise account of the actual setting of the soldiers into the war. This leaves the reader into active listening of the utterances of the author as he tries to bring into attention how much the soldiers were prepared for the war.
This essay analyzes Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” This collection of short stories is devoted to a platoon of American soldiers who fight in the Vietnam War. In summary, the act of listening in this book is quite crucial in the sense that it provides the reader with a more profound revelation of the utterances presented by O’Brien. More so, close following of the stories told by the author through the act of listening unveils the real nature of the scenes despite seeming like a blend of fiction and reality. On this basis, therefore, O’Brien succeeds in facilitating activeness among his audience through his use of language and various rhetorical devices to present his ideas uniquely.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway Publisher, 1998.
Further Study: FAQ
? How to shart The Things They Carried essay?
Start your essay by introducing your reader to O’Brien’s book. What are these stories about? When were they written? Begin with a plot’s general overview and analyze specific themes later on.
? What does Tim O’Brien carry in The Things They Carried?
The story contains numerous descriptions of the things carried by soldiers. Sometimes they are purely physical objects such as weapons or chewing gum. On a more metaphysical level, those things are feelings of loss or happiness, guilt, habits, or a soldier’s mentality.
? What are the key literary devices in The Things They Carried?
O’Brien uses such literary devices as symbolism, allegory, juxtaposition, and simile. The narration is a crucial stylistic element, too. The author switches between different narrative voices, which makes us question the realness of events.
? Who was The Things They Carried publisher?
The first edition of the book was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1990. Some of the stories included in The Things They Carried were published in Esquire in earlier years.
The Realistic Setting in the O’Brien Story “The Things They Carried“ Essay
The Things They Carried’ is one of the short stories in the book “Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing.” The story was written by Tim O’Brien who, according to his military life experiences between 1968 and 1970 served as an infantry fighter in Vietnam. Though the characters of this story are fictional, O’Brien obviously created a realistic setting in the story based on his personal experiences in combat.
By doing so, he was able to depict the harsh realities and emotional problems that soldiers go through in war environments. This analysis became evident in the story as depicted by the actions of the principal character, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. Lieutenant Cross carried a heavy burden within himself after failing to concentrate in the war. Consequently, he lost his sense of reality by constantly daydreaming about a girl known as Martha.
The beginning of the short story is a simple one explaining the things soldiers carried as they went to war. O’Brien found it difficult to discuss most of the topics in the story hence he employed a distant way of telling the story of the Vietnam War. His intention was to convey the message that the war did not affect him much. However, the structure and the feelings created by the events starting from noble events to distressing ones are important in the story.
They form the basis of the discussion of emotional experiences that affected the soldiers in combat. In the end, it was clear that the things that soldiers carried were not at all ‘things.’ The soldiers had to deal with the emotional feelings of men who were exposed to the risk of death. Things like terror, love and fear were not tangible but the weight they had on the soldiers was tangible. The author says that the soldiers carried with them shameful memories and a feeling of cowardice (O’Brien 21).
The presentation of such passages causes the reader to share in the grief of the soldiers. The author gives details that compel the reader to look at the soldiers as fellow human beings and people who go through the experiences of normal human beings. Just like other human beings, the soldiers had their troubles and emotions.
Fear, cowardice and shame were some of the burdens they carried while at war. These were burdens that troubled them contributing towards their character change. O’Brien uses characters like Mary Anne Bell and Mark Fossie to show how the soldiers were changed from innocent people into savages.
As the author gives an explanation of the things soldiers carried, he presents the major themes of imagination and memory in the story. O’Brien succeeds in showing how these two themes can facilitate mental escape. For instance, Lieutenant Cross always thought of Martha even as he performed his normal duties during the war. He did not have memories of her but only imagined of their romantic trips together.
These imaginations of Lieutenant Cross are described by the author as full of pretence. The importance of the deeds of Lieutenant Cross is shown when O’Brien gives information about the photograph of Martha and letters from her that were carried by Lt Cross. These symbolized the love Cross had for Martha.
O’Brien deviates from using literary techniques where he describes the physical things of the soldiers and presents the most important characters in the story. He provides important details of the things that were carried by the soldiers. The explanation of the things carried by the soldiers helps the reader to look at them in a more realistic manner.
The author aims at helping the reader connect with the feelings of the soldiers and take the situation as if it was real. Details such as the weight of things like radios, grenades and weapons seem trivial but assist the readers in getting a real picture of the weight of the war (O’Brien 399).
O’Brien uses the death of Lavender to present the situation Lieutenant. Cross found himself in since his role in the war conflicted with his conscience and the imaginations that brought peace to him. Lieutenant Cross burnt the letters from Martha and accepted that he was responsible for the death of Lavender.
This conflict in his line of thought informs the reader that one should be careful to differentiate fantasy from truth. Although he burned what seemed to be a constant reminder of Martha, his memory of her did not disappear. In addition, he carried a burden of guiltiness and pain for what he did.
Lieutenant Cross is used by the author to explain the concept of mental escapism. Mental escapism is defined as the act of focusing on unimportant things in order to avoid unpleasant conditions. Lieutenant Cross was supposed to focus on the war but instead he spent all his time thinking about Martha.
After the death of Kiowa, he was also supposed to look for his body but instead he concentrated on thinking about the letter he had to write to Kiowa’s father. He managed to concentrate on issues that were not related to the war yet he was compelled to carry a heavy burden because of that. The short story was an important contribution towards the Literature of war in Vietnam with O’Brien being credited for his ability in memorializing war experiences.
O’Brien, Tim. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. New York: Longman, 2010. Print.
Literary Interpretation & Critique Paper Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried Essay
Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a fusion of stories derived from both fact and fiction regarding the Vietnam War, which conveys the emotions and experiences of a soldier during and after the war. The title of the book is associated to the author’s description of characters not by their personality, but by the items they carried (O’Brien 7).
The main narrative device in the book is repetition, which is employed by the author through creation of a slightly surreal yet factual ambience for the reader. For example, the author repeats the phrases “the things they carried” and “they carried” throughout the book. O’Brien tells the story interchangeably as his present self and through “Tim the soldier who describes the experiences of O’Brien through a second person narrative” (Nagel 130).
The result is an alternating form of realism and imagination, which the author acknowledges when he states that “the thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.” (O’Brien 230).
In reference to the statement, the author in essence questions the actuality of a “true war story,” which is also sustained by the fact that according to Tim, his story is merely a dream (Beidler 122). “O’Brien creates an element of doubt in the book by interlinking fact and fiction by extensively employing imagination and reality” (Nagel 128-129).
For example, in chapter eleven “The Man I Killed,” he imagines that the man he has killed “was born in 1946. His parents were farmers. He was neither a Communist nor a fighter and all he hoped for was that the Americans would go away…He had delicate fingers and might have been a scholar.
The other boys at school might have teased him because he may have had a woman’s walk and a love for mathematics” (O’Brien 129-130). However, in the chapter titled “Notes” O’Brien goes on to define real events in his life such as in 1975 when he received a handwritten letter from Norman Bowker that describes the effects of the war on a former soldier and encouraged O’Brien to write about the effects of the Vietnam War (Nagel 138).
The difficulty in writing truth about war arises from the fact that wartime conditions are unstable, rushed and marred with confusion. A soldier’s emotions and senses are exclusively focused to staying alive and conquering the enemy which “creates a ‘tunnel-vision’ mindset, superseding senses associated with hindsight and recollection” (Nagel 142). In addition, soldiers are trained to be brave and confident but, as humans, they are still “prone to natural reactions such as fear and cowardice in addition to fatal mistakes such as killing a fellow soldier by mistake” (Nagel 142).
However, the acknowledgement of such a mistake may lead to criticism or punishment, which compels soldiers to only “portray their actions as heroic regardless of their experiences” (Nagel 145). As a result, the stories of war are biased which greatly compromises the integrity of facts, which is possibly “the main reason why narrator Tim states he will conceal parts of Jimmy Cross’ story” (Nagel 151). The truth is especially slanting when war occurs in an isolated region such as Vietnam as compared to a large-scale war such as World War II.
The writer applies diction to achieve in creating more vivid events to emphasize on the emotions in a certain event. This is so because he wants to sway the audience to feel what he felt. For example, in the story Good Form, O’Brien gives reasons why he tells stories. “What stories can do, I guess, is make things present. I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again.” (180)
The writer emphasizes on how his emotions can be expressed in both imaginary and fiction narrations. To achieve in making a story important, he must express his feelings by narrating the event in a way that influences the reader’s perception by placing a reader on the battle field and this is achieved by effective enunciation (Ringnalda 78).
O’Brien uses imagery in his writing, for example in “The Man I Killed”, the author writes, “His jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star shaped hole, his eyebrows were thin and arched like a woman’s…” (124).
This is a clear description of use of imagery as a figure of speech. Imagery exactly captures and expresses feelings to the audience by creation of images in the audience mind. Juxtaposition is another figure speech that is able to express fiction importance by fully showing how similar and close it is to reality in a story. O’Brien explains how in a happening-truth that “there were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look” (180). In this statement, the writer explains the reality of the story as if he was still there (Biess and Moeller 45).
When Norman circles the lake in his hometown, having in mind all the things he had lost it symbolizes Norman as a satellite that is unable to resist the magnetic force of the lake. Finally, when he submerges himself in the lake, it symbolizes his later suicide. In ‘Field Trip’, the narrator judges the field with the same old emotions, not knowing the outcome would not be the same.
Embarking to the location of Kiowa’s death twenty years later, he is surprised to find the field at peace and more strangely is the absence of the feeling he felt whenever he was approached with the place that has symbolized everything vulgar and violent from his past.
Surprisingly, when the narrator enters into the fields, he re-emerges with a new outlook, finally having freed himself from the shackles of bitterness the fields were redesigned for baptism and he cleansed himself from the destruction of the war (Beidler 132). Mark Fossie’s lover who is from America is a symbol of the goodness in America. In“Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong”, however, reflects the changes that happen to the innocent girl. When she is trans-located from Cleveland suburbs and settles on the mountains of Vietnam.
The occurrence of the war and the loud silence of the mountain have a seductive effect on the young girl. Once innocent girl is now able to amass instinctive ransacks and to lock off channels, the innocence she had fades so does the love Mark had for her. She rubs off her youthful dreams of getting married to Mark after his return and they finally separate (Biess and Moeller 55).
Beidler Philip. Re-writing America: Vietnam Authors in Their Generation .Georgia: University of Georgia, 1991. Print
Biess, Frank, & Robert Moeller. Histories of the Aftermath: The Legacies of the Second World War in Europe. London: Berghahn Books, 2010. Print.
Nagel, James. The Contemporary American Short-Story Cycle: The Ethnic Resonance of Genre. California: LSU Press, 2004. 119- 148. Print.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway, 1998. Print.
Ringnalda, Don. Fighting and Writing the Vietnam War. Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press of Mississippi, 2008. Print.