The Things They Carried

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Phil Costner
English – Rough Draft

In the novel, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, he vividly depicts the situations of war-life in Vietnam using very interesting characters. Though some of the characters he uses are not actually real people, but just made up to serve as symbols in his story. In some cases these characters serve more to the story through their symbolism rather that their character. The three characters who embody this the most are Kiowa, Mary Anne Bell, and Kathleen.

Mary Anne is the embodiment of American arrogance in Vietnam. She arrives dressed in her pink sweater and culottes, fresh faced and curious. She wants to know about everything. She treats the deep-rooted conflict as a holiday, blithely treating a Viet Cong stronghold like a tourist town and swimming in a river that's possibly surrounded by snipers. Just like the Americans who thought the war would be easy and over quickly, she thinks she can't be touched. But she is touched. She's sucked into Vietnam, and she ultimately can't leave. She doesn't want to. Just learning about the country isn't enough. She wants to consume it. And, eventually, she slips away from the soldiers – she's not on their side anymore – and stalks through the night, dealing death. Kathleen is modern America. She's young, she doesn't really remember the war, and she doesn't understand why her father is so darn obsessed with it, why he's still writing stories. By writing war stories, Tim is metaphorically returning to the sewage field to pay tribute to his dead comrades. He takes us along for the ride to show us what happened. We might not get it – Kathleen certainly doesn't – but that's not what the trip is about. The trip is about honoring the dead and remembering the moral sacrifices that we made in war. The next time we see the sewage field is in "Field Trip," when O'Brien goes back to Vietnam to honor Kiowa's memory and to introduce his daughter, Kathleen, to the place that owns such a large part...
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