Discuss the Idea of "Carrying" in O'Brien's "The Things They Carried". What Is Carried and by Whom?

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Tim O’Brien, in his collection of short stories called “The things they carried”, develops the theme of soldiers ‘carrying’ many burdens throughout their lives. Through his persona, also named Tim O’Brien, O’Brien contradicts the stereotypical reason as to why the men joined the war. Jimmy Cross explores the unwanted burden placed on a Lieutenant of the platoon member’s responsibility. Further O’Brien explores the affect of the Vietnam War on the soldiers on their wellbeing through Norman Bowker, who suicides as he is unable to deal with the memories and the pressure faced due to the war. the emotional burden from the memories, physical weight ‘humped’ by them during the war and the mental pressures enforced upon them are the different types of ‘carrying’ which O’Brien explores through these characters.

Emotion burden came about from the memories and fear of shame, guilt and the loneliness at war. This the soldiers carried through out their lives. The men faced shame before the war when they were drafted. While many held the urge to go to Canada instead only some did. This is because of their fear of the shame from society of being called “Pussy” or “Turncoat” and went to war because they were “embarrassed not to”. O’Brien aims to contradict the idea of men attending the war to server for their country further through his persona Tim O’Brien. He too like many tries to runaway to Canada but social norms restrict his choices and he as well is a “coward” because he “went to war”. Through this O’Brien also reasons that throughout history men attended the war due to their fear of shame they would have to face, of enduring the “mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule”. This irony of the men being shameful for attending the war rather then for not attending the war further helps highlight the weight of the emotional confusion and burden the men faced due to social expectations. The men carry this emotional burden of shame and cowardice to the war where it is further magnified as from the shameful memories involving the “instinct to run, freeze or hide”. Guilt adds to these memories as the burden further builds from the death of fellow members. Lieutenant Cross, who is a “kid at war”, is given the responsibility of the platoon at war and even after the war he carries the guilt for the death of Ted Lavender. He “never [forgave] himself for Lavender’s death” and blames his distraction from Martha due to which he carries the guilt like a “stone in his stomach”. The metaphor of Cross burning Martha’s letters and pictures shows how he tries to burn the guilt with them failing to understand that this emotional pressure is something that would “never go away” for the soldiers as carried the “weight of the memories” which cannot be erased. Guilt further evoked other emotions such as anger and loneliness. As all human beings the men craved for comfort, love and to spend time with loved ones. This however was taken by them through the war experience as when at war only some were supported by their families while others felt the loneliness at war. Being away from loved ones angered them and they carried this emotion of grievance throughout their lives. They resented the guilt, fear, loneliness and anger which society did not understand or feel. While soldiers were able to with these emotions and memories which burdened them after the war through writing stories, others struggled to maintain a stable consciousness. Norman Bowker, who is unable to express his feelings and release some of his emotional weight, feels this loneliness and suicides to escape this burden which he cannot carry fro longer. Through Norman, O’Brien intends to show the reader of how the emotional burdens of the men could not be erased but somewhat eased, which some men were not able to do. Though O’Brien shows that men developed this burden through different experiences, it is clear that the burden grows as the war progress and keeps increasing through...
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