Essay on the Things They Carried

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Prof. Horvath
Literature and Composition
06/12/2012

The Heavy Burden of Memories

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and The Road by Cormac McCarthy both deal with the profound affects that memories have upon the actions and understandings of men. In both novels memories weigh heavily on the main characters’ souls, but each man carries that burden differently. The results may vary but the impact of what has happened and what is remembered changes their perspectives and ultimately leads to a unique ending for each man. Do the memories that are carried shape or change the people involved and the understanding of the certain situations?

In the novel The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien not only carries his memories from home and at war, but also he carries the stories from all the men who fought beside him. Tim has many stories throughout the book that directly link to his own problems and memories from before, during, and after the war. Just reading the emotions in each story shows how much Tim has struggled with scars and memories of everyone he has listened to. He states, “the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget” (O'Brien 33). Remembering becomes a responsibility and a duty to hold and share even if the rest of the world does not want to hear.

Tim O’Brien recoils when he receives his draft notice in the mail. He is shocked and believes that he is too smart and young to go to war. Before the war he would spend many nights driving around, thinking: “about the war and the pig factory and how my life seemed to be collapsing toward slaughter. I felt paralyzed. All around me the options seemed to be narrowing, as if I were hurtling down a huge black funnel, the whole world squeezing in tight” (O'Brien 41). This is a very difficult time in Tim’s life and he begins questioning everything. He almost flees to Canada and leaves his family, friends, and home to escape the draft. This shows how someone is willing to change his life so that he does not die or come back with memories of death. When he does not leave, it shows the responsibility and care that Tim carries with him early in the book. These memories he carries throughout and refuses to allow him to let go of his duty to witness the horror and pain of his friends and colleagues.

At the end of the book when Tim travels back to Vietnam, he is still looking for a release from his memories, “where we visited the site of Kiowa’s death, and where I looked for signs of forgiveness or personal grace or whatever else the land might offer” (O'Brien 173). To the very end of the book Tim is looking for a getaway route, where he can start new and forget his past. He cannot escape the memories. Even twenty years after the war he says:

I’m forty-three years old, and a writer now, and the war has been over for a long while.[...] I sit at this typewriter and stare through my words and watch Kiowa sinking into deep muck of a shit field, or Curt Lemon hanging in pieces from a tree, and as I write about these things, the remembering is turned into a kind of rehappening. [...] The bad stuff never stops happening: it lives in its own dimension, replaying itself over and over. (O'Brien 31) The war takes a smart, compassionate, young man and rips him down to his skin and bones, leaving him with only terrible memories. As Tim’s life plays on, there is a noticeable change in his character. He starts as an innocent young man and becomes an ex-soldier with emotional stories/memories to carry for the rest of his life. His burden that he carries changes who he is on some very basic level, and he feels responsible to hold onto those memories for those who cannot hold them any longer. He feels that he must be a witness and not forget as his duty. In Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, the main character is a father who is searching for a better life for his son. His memories fuel his quest and he has a very unique way of expressing and remembering his...
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