The Things They Carried

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Nikita Keenan
7/14/12

Throughout Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried, the persona of the author often serves as a medium between the translation of emotion felt by characters in the story to the reader of the book. By developing fictitious versions of events that transpired while serving in the Vietnam War, O’Brien’s character is able to revive memories from the past as well as spark feelings of understanding and empathy in others. Surprisingly, the tone of the narrator rarely peals away from being passive and humorous, despite the tragic scenes that unfold within the story. Feelings of sorrow and regret intertwine passages in the novel but are never directly addressed, thus, the author’s character seems to be reserved about certain emotions concerning his childhood, the war, and adulthood. Due to these traits in the style of writing, O’Brien conveys emotions of acceptance in the turns that his life has made and his feeling of remembrance. The tales written in the book instill the idea that everybody is hung up on how important parts of life get taken from us sooner or later. Instead of grieving, remembering what those people or things meant to you when they were here lets the good memories live with you forever. One passage that greatly supports this idea is found in the final pages of the book (p.232) when the author’s character shares his memory of a reoccurring dream that he had after his first love, Linda, passed away. O’Brien states how he’d imagine spending time with her and they would talk about things in his dreams while visiting familiar places such as an ice skating rink. The passage is presented in a matter-of-fact way as the author lists his thoughts bluntly, yet, each sentence draws the reader closer to the moral of the story and concurrently draws the reader away to reflect on memories of their own. O’Brien uses this technique in tone from start to finish and also implements several other methods along the way. The writing reaches out to the reader in a conversational feel and the shifts in voice are abrupt, dramatic, and effective. Ultimately, the author prepared his readers final response from the book by keeping his tone simple and gradually building his collection of stories into an ending which shared a powerful message that everyone can relate to.

In the beginning of the book the author introduces several phrases and slang words that were used among his platoon during the Vietnam War. One of these words, “hump”, which meant to carry something, makes several appearances throughout story. To people outside of Alpha Company, the word hump is used to describe a physical attribute located on certain animals such as camels and are vital to the survival of the creature because it provides storage for water. The resemblance between the two definitions at first glance is relatively significant considering they both refer to the act of carrying. Further investigation into the slang use of the word reveals to the reader that soldiers may have referred to carrying as, “to hump”, because the things they carried were as essential to their survival as a hump was to a camel’s. After coming to this conclusion and seeing it regularly in context, it was pretty easy to adjust to its usage for the remainder of the story. Other different usages of words that I found while reading were, “legs”, or , “grunts”. These two words were used to describe the members of the platoon. At first I was unsure of how these words correlated with being a soldier but as the author further described the living conditions and everyday duties of a company member the connection became clear. “Grunts”, referred to soldiers because they had to go through intense physical labor each day carrying heavy equipment and marching hours at a time. “Legs”, also referred to the marching that they did each day but may also recognize that the soldiers weren’t viewed as a people but as numbers. After coming up with a definition for the...
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