The Things They Carried

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Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam novel The Things They Carried was written in many respects to reflect real events and while we soon come to the realization that the actual event is in the end irrelevant, these events still provide a vital backdrop for the reader to initially absorb then realize that they don’t actually matter. The Things They Carried is not a text book nor in any respects is it an accurate historical account, it is a collection of memories, feelings and actions and with O’Brien staying clear of stereotypical themes such as heroism and bravery we are presented with a more compelling, realistic and appropriate view of an ambiguous war fought by young and unsure men. With realism being the truth and truth being a feeling Tim O’Brien successfully conveys every theme major or minor leaving us simply with one overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. As he constantly backtracks, re-writes and retells stories the facts become more and more distorted but the truth and relevance of all the stories are stronger with every page you read. While it is important to know that the soldiers were fighting a war with unthinkable consequences the fact will always remain that whether someone died in 1968 in Vietnam or 1980 in New York the feelings will always be the same and in the end with time distorted facts the only truth is the felling you have. Tim O'Brien describes a group of soldiers marching through Vietnam. He does this by describing the items that each of them carries with him during the march. The things that the soldiers carry with them are both tangible and intangible items and what these things are depends upon the individual soldier. They carry the basic "necessities" for survival, if one can consider such things as M&M's a necessity, and the bare minimum to make life as livable as possible. But they also carry memories, and fears, and it is intangible items like these that are the prime focus of the story. The weight of these abstract items is as real as that of any physical ones, and unlike those physical objects, they are not so easily cast away. Throughout the story, O'Brien alternates between narrative passages and simple descriptions of the items that the soldiers are carrying. This fragmentation brings focus to the things the men are carrying, both tangible and intangible, without downplaying the narration. In the descriptive segments of the story, O'Brien is very exact in his descriptions and seems to be merely cataloging what is being carried: "As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45(c)caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds full loaded.” O'Brien gives only straight forward descriptions in these segments and the writing is void of any feeling or sentiment. When describing the intangible things, however, the writing is a lot more in tune with the emotions of the characters: "Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps.” O'Brien's writing takes on more sentimentality in these sections and adds a great deal of emotional weight for the reader. This contrast in narrative style is necessary to give emphasis to the intangible things that the men carried. “They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment.” This quotation from the story, “The Things They Carried,” is part of a longer passage about the emotional baggage of men at risk of dying. O’Brien contends that barely restrained cowardice is a common secret among soldiers. He debunks the notion that men go to war to be heroes. Instead, he says, they go because they are forced to and because refusal equals cowardice. This detached generalization foreshadows several later...
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