The Things They Carried

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Spring Book Review
In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien tells the tale of not about war, but rather about war’s effect on one’s mentality. Ultimately, this novel is built on a foundation of the items that the soldiers of the Vietnam War carried. Whether it was the way Jimmy Cross uses the pebble to escape from his duties as a soldier or when Norman Bowker realizes that courage comes form within, not from receiving a Silver Star; O’Brien uses baggage as a symbol throughout the book to teach that war does in fact change people. These possessions were not just materialistic, they made up the soldiers’ attributes, made up the soldiers’ persona and made up the soldier.

In the beginning of the story we are introduced to Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. Cross is in love with a girl named Martha, and carries letters and pictures she has sent him. He also carries a good-luck pebble he received from Martha, and daydreams about her during their long marches. One day the Lieutenant and his men are marching through Than Kale, Cross’ daydreaming is distracting him as usual, when Ted Lavender is shot in the head and killed. The men “carried” Lavender to a helicopter. The emotional baggage they all carried were the things they wanted to lay down the most. Jimmy Cross carried the responsibility for his men and blamed himself for the death of Ted Lavender.

O’Brien is the most complex character in the novel, particularly so because there are three different stages of development. O’Brien the writer/narrator, “O’Brien” the soldier, and Timmy O’Brien the young boy all possess different thoughts and emotional understandings, each of which are in tension with the others. Part of O’Brien’s goal as writer/narrator is to emphasize these tensions. For example, each of these characters grapples differently with the concept of death. Timmy learned at a young age to accept death; soldier “O’Brien” attempts to retrieve that lesson to deal with death in war; O’Brien the writer...
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