Themes in The Things They Carried
“In a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world,” writes Tim O’Brien in his novel The Things They Carried (225). Throughout the story, O’Brien discusses themes such as death, the loss of innocence, and truth. Not only does O’Brien successfully thematically connect his final story “The Lives of the Dead” to the rest of his book, he also creates a “true war story,” as per his description.
In “The Lives of the Dead,” O’Brien discusses the death of his childhood sweetheart Linda, the deaths of his comrades in Vietnam, and the deaths of those he saw killed during the conflict. He discusses the deaths in Vietnam throughout the novel and, in the final chapter, brings them all together and connects them to the first deceased person he ever saw- Linda. Using writing as a method to cope with death, he realizes that he can keep people alive through his memories of them. Knowing that he can utilize the “spell of memory and imagination” (245) to preserve the lives of those who have died, O’Brien gives them their lives back. This is a major theme throughout the novel, but particularly in the final chapter.
O’Brien also discusses the senselessness of death, primarily through his telling of the death of Linda, in the last chapter, and Curt Lemon, in the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story.” Lemon’s death affected O’Brien a great deal because “he was playing catch with Rat Kiley, laughing, and then he was dead” (78) - without any warning or buildup. Linda is also described as being alive one moment and dead the next. This sort of death affects a person more because it is unexpected, catching a person off guard and unprepared.
Linda’s death when O’Brien was only nine years old coincides with his first loss of innocence in regards to death. Seeing Linda’s body, he says that it “didn’t seem real” (241). This is when he began his...