The Things They Carried

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The Things They Carried: Burden and Redemption
In the fictional novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, scenes regarding the death of a comrade or an enemy soldier seem to convey and accentuate two unifying themes: redemption and encumbrance. While some characters, such as “the young soldier” who is evidently O’Brien, endeavor to find some sort of closure and salvation, others, including Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, blame themselves for the demise of their comrade-at-arms and cannot relieve themselves of the painful memories. Furthermore, they carry this emotional and psychosomatic “burden,” comprised of anguish, trepidation, fondness, and longing after the war has ended and throughout their lives.

First and foremost, O’Brien adopts the persona of “the young soldier,” who is one of the few characters in the book who attempts to find a way to relieve themselves of their emotional burdens through redemption. For instance, in “The Man I Killed,” O’Brien describes the Viet Cong soldier he killed as being “a scholar…[who had] been determined to continue his education in mathematics…and…began attending classes at the university in Saigon, where he avoided politics and paid attention to the problems of calculus” (O’Brien 122). By envisioning an extensive life for the victim, O’Brien is struggling to find solace, while at the same time, making an effort to redeem himself for committing a sin. Furthermore, this type of remorse indicates the development of a psychological trauma that he will no doubt carry on after the war, which reinforces the theme of “encumbrance,” in which the soldiers cling to. Moreover, in the chapter “Field Trip,” O’Brien says, “I’d gone under with Kiowa, and now after two decades I’d finally worked my way out” while standing in the river where Kiowa had met his demise (O’Brien 179). The fact that O’Brien returns to the same exact location where Kiowa had died two decades earlier conveys that his death had a profound and contemplative effect on...
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