The Things They Carried

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Julius Nevin


Eaten Alive

Some things in life become part of you. People, places, feelings; you can become so close that you are one. But sometimes, these things can consume you; swallow you whole. In Tim O'Brien's novel, The Things They Carried, many characters become one with the land of Vietnam. Vietnam consumes characters in different ways, but it always results in a character's unity with the land. Unity is defined as “the state of being one; oneness”. Kiowa physically becomes part of the land in “Speaking of Courage”, when he sinks into the shit field, where Jimmy Cross ordered his troops to camp out. In this case, Kiowa is literally swallowed by the land. Mary Anne becomes part of the land differently in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”. She becomes psychologically attached to the land; it consumes her mind and her life. Vietnam is dangerous and hungry. It will eat you alive.

During Norman Bowker's flashback in “Speaking of Courage”, it's learned that Jimmy Cross orders his platoon to camp out in “a big swampy field beside the river... There was a ville nearby... fifty meters downstream... and right away a dozen old mama-sans ran out and started yelling... about how the field was bad news... not a good spot for GIs.” (144, 145). Cross decides to set up camp, regardless, and “the rain kept getting worse... by midnight the field turned into soup.” (145). A soldier soon realizes that “it was a shit field... the village toilet.” (145). The Viet Cong troops attack the platoon, and hell breaks loose. “...he heard somebody screaming... It was Kiowa... Kiowa's wide open eyes settling down into the scum... Kiowa was almost completely under... There were bubbles where Kiowa's should have been... Kiowa was gone.” (148, 149). Kiowa gets sucked into the shit, and physically becomes part of Vietnam. Tim O'Brien's writing emphasizes Vietnam, the land itself, as a character. Vietnam does as it pleases; takes what it wants. It selfishly takes Kiowa...
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