How does Chapter One set the stage for the burdens discussed throughout the book?
O’Brien uses the list of physical objects that the members of the Alpha Company carry in Vietnam as a window to the emotional burdens that these soldiers bear. One such burden is the necessity for the young soldiers to confront the tension between fantasy and reality. The realization of this tension disrupts Cross’s stint as the resident dreamer of the Alpha Company. Cross thinks that because he was so obsessed with his fantasy of Martha and the life they might lead after the war, he was negligent. He sees Ted Lavender’s death as the result of his negligence. If “The Things They Carried” is the illustration of the conflict between love and war, then the death of Ted Lavender and the subsequent disillusionment of Lieutenant Cross signify a triumph for war in this conflict. The emotional burdens that the soldiers bear are intensified by their young age and inexperience. Most of the men who fought in Vietnam were in their late teens and early twenties—they were children, students, and boyfriends who had no perspective on how to rationalize killing or come to terms with their friends’ untimely deaths. From the beginning, O’Brien the author uses explicit details to illustrate what the experience was like for the scared men. Among the things the men carry are guilt and cowardice that they are neither able to admit to nor negotiate. For example Cross’s reaction to Ted Lavender’s death shows how the horrors of the war can make men irreparably cynical and gloomy. Before Lavender’s death, the most vivid images Cross carries in his mind are those of Martha. He is obsessed with trivial matters such as whether or not she is a virgin and why she so tantalizingly signs her letters “Love.” But when he decides his thoughts of her have led him astray and that they—and she—caused the distraction and incompetence that led to Lavender’s death, he expresses his anger at her in...
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