The Things They Carried

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“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.” (80)

This passage is very significant to the reality of the soldiers in the Vietnam War and brings to life the setting of the entire novel. The soldiers were primarily teenagers and young men in their early twenties who had not yet had the chance to experience life. They soon had found themselves in the midst of an intense war with nothing but uncertainty and fear. They hated it and they loved the fear and adrenaline that ran through their skin and bones. It was a crucial part of their young lives that changed the way they would see their own world. In this passage it shows how the characters perceived the war as their feelings changed everyday, every hour, and even every minute. A strong message is presented through this passage as it brings forth the true raw emotion of the soldiers and the reality of war; which is a major theme throughout the novel.

The words that Tim O’Brien used to describe the war were mind boggling. It made me realize anything can happen at any minute and anything can change at any moment. It’s hard to imagine what the soldiers must have felt so young in such a terrifying and unforgiving war. To constantly live in fear of death is unimaginable. The descriptive language of this passage helped clarify how the soldiers felt and perceived the war; by expanding my mind on how feelings and emotions can change as rapidly as clock ticks. This is an extremely powerful passage as it presents war in a way that may not be typical or expected.

“I feel close to myself when I’m out there at night, I feel close to my own body, I can feel my blood moving, my skin and my fingernails, everything, it’s like I’m full of electricity and I’m glowing in the dark—I’m on fire almost—I’m burning away into nothing—but it doesn’t matter because I know exactly who I am. You can’t feel like that anywhere else.” (111)

This passage explains how Mary Anne and how the other characters felt in the middle of combat. It shows their fear of being seen and killed in the midst of the darkness that was the Vietnam jungle. At every waking moment fear ran outrageously wild through every soldier in the bloody, terrifying battle field. There was no end to the treacherous feeling; it remained in every mind forever, dead or alive. The soldiers discover themselves and truly find out who they are and what they are capable of, whether it is losing a close friend or killing the enemy. They are surrounded by life and the ever depressing uncertainty fate of death.

Mary Anne’s passage jumped out at me because it explained how every soldier was afraid that their strong magnetism in combat made them feel as though the enemy could see them. Whereas, there was a strong sense that they needed to feel invisible to conceal themselves to prevent from being discovered. I felt the fear and could feel the adrenaline running through myself as I read this passage. I can not possibly fathom the feeling that everyone is watching me at every moment. This passage was very intriguing in the sense that Mary Anne is the only female in the middle of combat but she seems to play the role of the “alpha male” and her strong sense of adventure terrifies the soldiers.

“The town could not talk, and would not listen. “How’d you like to hear about the war?” he might have asked, but the place could only blink and shrug. It had no memory, therefore no guilt. The taxes got paid and the votes got counted and the agencies of government did their work briskly and politely it was a brisk, polite town. It did not know shit about shit, and did not care to know.” (143)

In this passage it tells the truth of how the Vietnam War was inevitably ignored. Tim O’Brien is referring...
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