“The Things They Carried” is a series of connected short tales by American author Tim O’Brien about a battalion of American troops ground fighting in Vietnam during the war. The weight we all bear is the central topic of the novel “The Things They Carried.” The fundamental theme of the title tale is that troops in the Vietnam War had a range of things, some tangible and others conceptual. They, for instance, operational instruments, meals, guns, and the real stuff need to battle and survive. Aside from that, people bring precious artifacts from their homeland. Tim O’brien’s “The Things They Carried” Illustrates the Physical and emotional objects each soldier carried into combat in the Vietnam War.
In creating “The Things They Carried,” O’Brien draws on the heritage of American war novels while expanding the genre’s potential by reflecting on his own adventures as a warrior and a novelist. While other writers utilized their own combat memories as a broad basis for their works, O’Brien talks quite precisely about his experience in Vietnam, taking pieces of his own background for the central protagonist, Tim, the storyteller (Chen). O’Brien wrote not just to depict the Vietnam War and the individuals who participated in it but also to comprehend how the war molded him and provided him with his central theme as an author (Wesley). Like Kurt Vonnegut and numerous novelists before him, O’Brien makes no argument that war is remarkable. However, he depicts war as a phenomenon so overpowering that Tim must stick to writing about it in order to comprehend what he has been through.
O’Brien utilizes the list of tangible items carried by Alpha Company men in Vietnam as a doorway into the emotional impact that these troops suffer. One such weight is the youthful warriors’ need to face the contradiction between illusion and reality. The understanding of this conflict upends Cross’s tenure as the Alpha Company’s resident dreamer. Cross believes he was inattentive because he was preoccupied with his dream of Martha and the life they may lead after the war. Ted Lavender’s death, he believes, was the result of his carelessness. If “The Things They Carried” depicts the clash between love and war, then Ted Lavender’s murder and Lieutenant Cross’ eventual disenchantment represent a victory for those who fight in this struggle.
Cross’ response to Ted Lavender’s murder demonstrates how the tragedies of war may leave men irreversibly bitter and pessimistic. Cross recalls Martha’s face as the most striking picture in his memory before Lavender’s murder. He is preoccupied with petty topics, including whether a woman is a virgin and why she writes her messages “Love.” Nevertheless, then, when he realizes that his fantasies with her have led him wrong and that they—and she—are to blame for the diversion and ineptitude that resulted in Lavender’s murder, he vents his rage in the only manner he knows how. He destroys Martha’s photographs and messages to detach himself from emotion, which he regards as a destructive power during the war. At the end of this narrative, he decides that it is preferable to be adored than to command, demonstrating how the tragedy of Lavender’s murder has altered his attitude.
The notion of carrying is prevalent throughout the book, and the title tale gives the most in-depth treatment of this concept. The comprehensive and thorough lists of materials held by the troops may appear monotonous or unimportant at times. However, O’Brien highlights their humanity by emphasizing that, in addition to weaponry, warriors brought commonplace items like chocolates, cigarettes, and notes from their family members (O’Brien). Furthermore, by specifying the poundage of several of the products, such as nutrition, firearms, and equipment, he helps give everyone a realistic picture of what it was like to fight under such a load.
However, the troops are burdened by more than just actual weight; in many cases, they are plagued by mental baggage as well. Jimmy Cross believes that he carried the notion of Martha so strongly that he killed Ted Lavender. Moreover, since Ted Lavender has so much anxiety—along with sedatives and cannabis to calm him down and relax him—he may be distracted while strolling about, ending in his getting shot.
The troops’ emotional loads are exacerbated by their emotional immaturity. Most of the people who fought in Vietnam in their early twenties were youngsters, academics, and partners who had no idea how to justify murdering or cope with the tragic deaths of their buddies. O’Brien, the writer, provides precise descriptions from the start to show what the encounter was like for the terrified guys. Among the burdens the men bear are shame and cowardice, which they are unable to accept or discuss. Although they are saddened by the murder of their companion Lavender, their overriding emotion is one of relief that they are still surviving.
The symbolism of carrying is central to O’Brien’s writing as a whole, and it runs across the many pieces to emphasize the concept that the things we take—whether material or emotional—allow us to traverse life’s contradictions. Many of the personalities and elements featured in the first narrative are carried over into the following novels by O’Brien. Kiowa’s Bible and its impact on his life are important topics of discussion in “Church.” The notion that Henry Dobbins wears his girlfriend’s stockings around his neck explains his character, and in “Stockings,” O’Brien describes what occurs when the girlfriend splits up with Dobbins. These repeating aspects imply that characters were consistent throughout Vietnam and that the significant protagonists’ ideas and hopes maintained them throughout the conflict.
O’Brien’s choice to intersperse deep thoughts with mundane things creates the set’s particulate mood. The storyline of the anthology swings between observations on war and the account of Ted Lavender’s murder. O’Brien establishes the setting by grouping the art in this manner. He directly displays his characters’ nature of the world by exhibiting the goods they brought with them in such desperate situations rather than discussing them (Vernon). Rather than elaborating on Kiowa’s ancestry, O’Brien states that he possesses his grandfather’s hatchet and an embellished New Testament. O’Brien gives us views of persons whose characteristics become crucial to the issues explored by O’Brien throughout “The Things They Carried.”
Although women play a minor part in The Things They Carried, they play an important one. Women protagonists like Martha, Mary Anne Bell, and Henry Dobbins’ unknown lover all have an impact on the Alpha Company’s men—though, in two of the instances, the women are not really even with the males they are playing (Farrell). The men romanticize the ladies and utilize their existing letters, pictures, and even their imagination—as a type of consolation and reassurance that there is a world outside of Vietnam’s crimes.
Jimmy Cross, for instance, has photographs of Martha and recollections of their one and only encounter. He also hopes that she will one day reciprocate his love, giving him something to look forward to after the conflict. Henry Dobbins wears his girlfriend’s hosiery for the same reason: to remind him of family and divert him from the harsh reality of being a combat engineer in a battalion of troops. Mark Fossie urges his sweetheart Mary Anne to accompany him to Vietnam in the hope that her participation would spare him from the atrocities that await him. These males do not consider these women to be living creatures with thoughts, concerns, and wants. On the other hand, they regard them as inspiration to endure the conflict.
The story ends with the narrative “The Lives of the Dead,” in which Tim recalls his lifelong passion, Linda, who died from cancer when she was nine years old. Tim claims that he can capture her spirit and resurrect Linda in a narrative. Tim discovers that he has done the same thing for the story’s other dead heroes, including Ted Lavender, Dave Jensen, Kiowa, and the deceased young Vietnamese guy. By talking about them, he has kept them alive. Tim recognizes that, while he will not be able to live eternally, he can protect his son’s lifetime by revealing what occurred in Vietnam. He will not only save those who have passed by commemorating them in his composing, but the process of writing might save him.
To sum up, the title story’s fundamental premise is that warriors in the Vietnam War possessed a variety of items, some actual and others psychological. “The Things They Took” by Tim O’Brien depicts the emotional and physical artifacts that each soldier brought into combat during the Vietnam War. O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” relies on the tradition of American war novels while broadening the genre’s possibilities by reflecting on his own exploits as a fighter and an author. O’Brien uses the list of physical objects carried by Alpha Company personnel in Vietnam as a window into the emotional toll that these warriors face. One such burden is the requirement for young fighters to confront the dichotomy between illusion and reality.
The topic of carrying runs throughout the book, with the title story providing the most in-depth discussion of it. At times, the extensive and detailed inventories of materials possessed by the military may look tedious or irrelevant. The soldiers, nevertheless, are overburdened by more than simply physical weight; in many cases, they are also burdened by emotional baggage. The emotional burdens of the troops are increased by their lack of maturity. The majority of those who participated in Vietnam were in their early twenties, and they were young professors and spouses who had no clue how to rationalize violence or live with the awful loss of their comrades. The metaphor of carrying is fundamental to O’Brien’s literature as a whole, and it weaves across the many works to underline the idea that the things we value, physical or emotional—allow us to navigate life’s conflicts. Many of the characters and ideas from the first story are carried over into O’Brien’s subsequent works.
Chen, Tina. “Unraveling the Deeper Meaning”: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O’Brien’s” The Things They Carried.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 39, no.1, 1998, pp. 77-98. Web.
Farrell, Susan. “Tim O’Brien and Gender: A Defense of” The Things They Carried.” CEA Critic, vol. 66, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1-21. Web.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
Vernon, Alex. “Salvation, Storytelling, and Pilgrimage in Tim O’Brien’s” The Things They Carried. “ Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, 2003, pp. 171-188. Web.
Wesley, Marilyn. “Truth and Fiction in Tim O’Brien’s” If I Die in a Combat Zone” and” The Things They Carried. “ College Literature, vol. 29, no. 2, 2002. pp. 1-18. Web.