The Struggle of "weight" in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word "weight" as "a mass or quantity of something taken up and carried, conveyed, or transported." Tim O'Brien's war story The Things They Carried, published in 1990, explores the theme of weight and its importance to men at war in considerable depth. The opening chapter of this book, which was originally written as a short story, is comprised of a collection of lists. O'Brien details for his reader both the physical objects, such as cigarettes, C rations, and packets of Kool-Aid, and the more intangible things, such as fear and silent awe, that weigh these soldiers down. With the amount of space that the author gives to enumerating the weight of these objects, one might assume that these objects are what are really important to these soldiers, but in reality it is the incalculable weight of their spiritual burdens that truly weigh them down.
For the reader, it is odd to be immediately presented with this catalog of belongings, but O'Brien has a clear purpose in introducing his characters in this manner. In the midst of these laundry lists of articles we also get the revelation of key plot points, such as when Dave Jensen carried three pairs of socks and a can of Dr. Scholl's foot powder as a precaution against trench foot. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity (O'Brien, 4).
O'Brien gives great meaning to these details by embedding them in this way. When skimming through these lists, the reader becomes desensitized, but by interspersing these mundane items with profound events O'Brien punctuates them. Detail after detail, the reader is lulled into a state of near-submission, until a bombshell is dropped on the reader, such as when we discover in the second paragraph of the book that Ted Lavender has been shot and killed. These landmark events then become...