Symbolism in "The Things They Carried"

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A. Park

The Things They Carried

The symbols in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” are essential to understanding the soldiers and their lives during the Vietnam War. At the opening of the story, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross would dig into his foxhole and read the letters while imagining romance with Martha; however, at the end of the story after the death of Ted Lavender, he “crouched at the bottom of his foxhole and burned Martha’s letters” (402). The inner feelings of Cross would be mistakenly ignored without the help of symbols throughout his travel through Vietnam. O’Brien uses the emotional and physical weight carried by the soldiers as a representation of their personalities and how they prefer to cope with the war. The necessary and luxurious items carried by each solider provides a glimpse of individuality and personalization of how they mentally deal during the Vietnam War. The emotional weight carried by Cross symbolized the trauma he is feeling during the war. O’Brien’s use of symbols, such as the physical superstitious items and emotional burdens carried by the soldiers, exemplify the individual and ethical issues each soldier is coping with at war. The crucial symbol in the story was Martha’s letters to Lieutenant Cross, illustrating the emotion burden and lack of ability to be the leader he wished to be. The letters stored and carried in his rucksack that he read every evening helped to provide him comfort by directing his mind to another place during the Vietnam War. They served the purpose of his distraction and dreams while fighting the war with the strength they provided him. The narrator states that “They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack” (392). This hope began to block his vision and duty as an officer in Vietnam. Not only was he carrying the ounces of paper on his back, but the emotional weight of the sacrifice he made in order to serve his country,...
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