“The Things They Carried”
Tim O’ Brien, having the memories of war engraved in his mind, recalls the memories of his youth during battle in “The Things They Carried,” an intriguing collection of military accounts that symbolize his attempt to resist closure from past experiences. O’ Brien’s story reflects the difficult choices people have to make in their struggle to confront the war waging inside their bodies as well as on the ground they tread. In Steven Kaplan’s criticism, “The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’ Brien’s The Things They Carried,” he explores the uncertainty and inevitability that lies in the path of each soldier through their military conquest of Than Khe. In context to O’ Brien’s story, author Tina Chen in her literary criticism, “Unraveling the Deeper Meaning: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried,” captivates O’ Brien’s primary motive of telling a “true” war story. These stories and journals can be synthesized together through paralleling ideas such as the concept of imagination versus reality, O’ Brien’s credibility to his story without outside sourcing, and the lingering uncertainty dividing the men’s sanctity of what lies beyond, both literally and figuratively. Tim O’Brien’s short story, “The Things They Carried,” contemplates the value of reality versus personal relevance, and through Kaplan’s “The Undying Certainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried,” and Chen’s “Unraveling the Deeper Meaning: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried,” the two authors argue within the scheme of the imaginative American dream the hidden angst of the valiant; when faced with adversity, the weight of ones pride surpasses the weight of ones fear. The discussion between imaginative details versus the concrete reality is argued between Kaplan and Chen’s criticisms. Within Kaplan’s criticism, he states that details of size and weight are repeated with “scientific precision” (Kaplan 44). This small detail while insignificant to the reader in terms of physicality, is relevant in relation to a soldiers perspective where the hump they bear is the substance to their being. Chen similarly argues that the humps bared resemble the “potential home” (Chen 84) of the soldier’s soul. The counting of items is a conscious guide to mental sanity through tangible ownership. Chen argues a connection between body and place as an extended metaphor for the relationship between relevance for objects most individuals would hold no perspective value further than their obvious usage. Kaplan stresses however, that even the most minor details are relevant in differentiating between the imaginary and the factual. The certainties listed are only to structure definite differences between what is uncertain. He furthers that this structure parallels the concept of O’Brien’s pattern of “stating facts and then quickly calling them into question” (Kaplan 45). This uneven consistency produces a dream like quality to the story. The theory made by both authors creates further relevancy into what could be just an imaginary coping mechanism to better the mental state of the hopeless battle between recognizing reality and accepting the truth in the face of death. Furthermore past the morbid concept of war, the repeated desire for Martha to be a virgin as hoped by the stories protagonist and narrator clearly evaluates the unattainability of reality to the storyline. “Certainly the legs of a virgin, dry and without hair,” (O’Brien 100) as said by Lieutenant Cross, symbolizes the eternal necessity to have an innocent and imaginary escape from the harsh and unforgiving battlegrounds that consumes his relatively unobservant conscious. Chen goes past the innocence factor and theorizes Martha is a “metonym for home and all its attendant images” (Chen 85). This idyllic insistence with Martha’s requited love...
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