The Things They Carried

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Tim O'Brien, an author and avid reader, grew up near the borders of Iowa and South Dakota in Worthington, Minnesota, a typical small town in Midwestern America. He was born on October 1, 1946, making Tim a member of the post-World War II baby boomer generation. As a scrappy 18 year old, O'Brien traveled to St. Paul and enrolled at Macalester College. Throughout his years in college, O'Brien came to oppose the war in Vietnam. He didn't launch violent protests, as some radical activist groups had done, but instead joined the campaign of Eugene McCarthy, a presidential candidate from 1968 who openly opposed the fighting in Vietnam. O'Brien, who was an excellent student, completed his undergraduate degree by earning a bachelor's degree in government and politics in 1968. He had dreams of immediately attending graduate school and had made plans to continue his political science studies. His dreams were abruptly shattered as O'Brien was drafted for service in the military in 1968, just two short weeks after completing his undergraduate studies and months before he could be attend graduate school. O'Brien had always thought that the war was wrong and his initial thoughts were of fleeing to Canada, though he did not attempt it. Instead, O'Brien gave in to the pressure of the people around him to participate in the war because it was his "patriotic duty", and in August of 1968 Tim O'Brien was sent to basic training. Following boot camp, it wasn't very long before O'Brien found himself in Vietnam fighting on the front line. O'Brien was what you would call a "grunt", and served as a Radio Telephone Operator or as a Rifleman. He was wounded twice while in Vietnam and ultimately rose to the rank of sergeant. When completing his tour in March of 1970, O'Brien immediately went back to school, this time attending Harvard University to expand his knowledge of government and political science. It wasn't until much later, in 1990, did O'Brien publish a book detailing some of his experiences in Vietnam. Though the novel is a work of fiction, O'Brien blends enough fact and tales of personal experience with these fictitious events to bring you a believable and revealing story. Because O'Brien incorporates his personal tales into the account, the material is written with a high level of detail, and as a result the reader is able to get a firm grasp on what it was like to be in the shoes of the narrator. I think that the author probably chose to write the book as a kind of therapy. Through narration, O'Brien seems to be at peace with the disturbing events of Vietnam throughout the depiction of his chronicles. Even better than going to see a psychiatrist, Tim O'Brien uses the art of storytelling to ease his troubled mind. The more he writes, the better he feels. However, the healing process is slow; after all, it took O'Brien nearly twenty years to write about the specifics of his trip to Vietnam. O'Brien begins by complicating the presentation of his story by introducing a fictional protagonist that shares his name, "Tim O'Brien". "Tim O'Brien" the soldier should not be confused with the author, Tim O'Brien. Throughout the novel, "Tim" is remembering the past, and poring over the details of his memories of Vietnam in search of meaning. "Tim" begins by describing the characters of the story and telling you what each carried. Though many items that the soldiers toted were identical, each soldier was unique. Henry Dobbins is the big guy, so he carries extra food along with a heavy machine gun and his girlfriend's pantyhose. Kiowa carries a hatchet which he can use to hunt if necessary, along with a Holy Bible and a pair of moccasins. Ted Lavender, who is too anxious to face the war, carries tranquilizer pills and marijuana. Mitchell Sanders carried brass knuckles, condoms, and the unit's 28 pound radio. Dave Jensen carried soap, foot powder, dental floss, and vitamin pills. Norman Bowker simply carried a diary. The...
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