Roleof Women in the Things They Carried

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The Rose of the World

Why do we blame Helen’s beauty for the Trojan War or Eve’s curious nature for Adam’s choice to eat the apple, thus beginning the mortal human civilization? Throughout history men have found it convenient to hold women responsible for their own weaknesses and intolerance. The apathy of anti-feminist and conservative movements showcases the reality of the Stockholm syndrome and medieval serfdom. Men have been the captors and the masters of the women for time in antiquity, but we still see empathy in women. Henry Kissinger could not have summarized it any better when he said, “Nobody will ever win the Battle of the Sexes. There is too much fraternizing with the enemy.” Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is neither about the battle of sexes nor is it a feminist manifesto. The literary inferences, socio-political context, portrayal of various female characters, and their influence on the male characters truly depict changes in the social perception of gender roles, resulting conflict, and their outcome for American society. Along with all the things the men of the Alpha Company carried, they also took on the burden of feelings of love for the women they had left behind. Women are a source of motivation, inspiration, and comfort. Lieutenant Cross finds comfort and getaway from the war in his daydreams about Martha; for Henry Dobbins his girlfriend’s pantyhose are a reminder of her love, which he believes is a life-saving talisman; Norman Bowker can gather courage to talk to Sally Gustafson; and Fossie is madly in love with Mary-Anne to the extent that he arranges to fly her down to Vietnam. The interpretation of the word love has been romanticized to the extent that it never embodies the unwanted consequent feelings of anger, lust, objectification, jealousy, possessiveness, and insecurity. Jimmy Cross’ love metamorphosizes into lust and jealousy; he is obsessed with Martha’s virginity and begins to scrutinize every single detail, even the shadows, in the photograph. Even though Martha has never confessed about her feeling towards Jimmy Cross, his feelings of jealousy and lust transforms into anger at the death of Ted Lavender. Fossie’s love transforms into jealousy, possessiveness, and insecurity when he senses that Mary-Anne is drifting away from him. He finds it emasculating that Mary-Anne now prefers to spend more time with the Green Berets than with him and his colleagues. He conquers her by imposing marriage on her, which is evident when Rat Kiley says, Over dinner she kept her eyes down, poking at her food, subdues to the point of silence [….] Nervously, she’d look across the table at Fossie. She’d wait a moment, as if to receive some sort of clearance, then she’d bow her head and mumble out a vague word or two. There were no real answers (O’Brien 103). Mary-Anne’s state and Fossie’s forceful proposition justify what Andrea Dworkin says about marriage: “Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice. Rape, originally defined as abduction, became marriage by capture. Marriage meant the taking was to extend in time, to be not only use of but also possession of, or ownership.” One can sense a feeling of victory, sarcasm, and pride in Fossie’s tone when he says, “One thing for sure, though, there won’t be any more ambushes. No more late nights…I’ll put this way-we we’re officially engaged…Well hey, she’ll make a sweet bride [….] Combat ready” (O’Brien 103). This further justifies Andrea Dworkin’s claims about marriage, conquest of women, and their subjugation by men. The idea of young soldiers going to war for their country, romanticizing about the love of their life, and coming home victorious to claim their trophies (the women they love), is so ideal and over sentimental. This idea would be classified as the story truth by Tim O’Brien, something everyone would like to hear, but the happening truth that accepts the word love with all its connotations is deemed too negative by the...
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