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Literary Techniques in "The Things They Carried"

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Literary Techniques in "The Things They Carried"

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  • December 2009
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A literary technique is a device employed in literature to add depth to a writer’s work. These techniques can be obvious, such as the technique of rhyme in a poem, or subtle, such as juxtaposition, which can go unnoticed by the reader. In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien uses many such techniques to provide more depth to his book. Four literary techniques used by Tim O’Brien are symbolism, pathetic fallacy, irony, and juxtaposition.

One literary technique prominent in The Things They Carried, particularly in the story by the same name, is symbolism. Throughout this story, O’Brien mentions all the things that the soldiers carry with them, both physical and emotional. However, the physical items that the men carried is more than just equipment- they are symbols that represent various facets of each soldier’s personality. For example, “Rat Kiley carried...morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape...and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M’s for especially bad wounds” (O’Brien 5). The fact that Kiley carried medical necessities shows that he is a good paramedic devoted to doing his job well, but the M&M’s represent something different- Kiley’s optimistic and kind outlook on the war and life in general. Conversely, the tranquilizers carried by Ted Lavender represent his terror of the fighting in the war and his inability to face reality, rather choosing to escape from it by taking drugs. This is an effective technique because, by using these symbols, O’Brien can let the reader figure out for him/herself deeper aspects of certain characters’ personalities without actually stating them outright.

Another literary device Tim O’Brien employs is pathetic fallacy, or nature mirroring humans’ emotions. In the story Speaking of Courage, Norman Bowker attempts to save Kiowa’s life but fails. He becomes depressed and remorseful about what he should have been able to accomplish. For a long time afterward, Bowker struggles with the fact that...

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