War is for Life: Vietnam
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a very descriptive story about a group of soldiers and their experiences during and after the Vietnam War. Included in this story of their experiences , is the physical weight of the objects they had to carry during the war. O’Brien not only tells the reader about the physical weight of war material , but also of the mental and emotional weight the war had on the soldiers. He goes into depth about the burdens of guilt, love, memory and terror the war had on his fellow men. O’Brien is sure to exaggerate these emotions in the story and makes it apparent to the reader that the physical weight of the war is heavy, but the emotional and mental weight are both heavier.
The soldiers in the story are overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt throughout the story. At the start of the novel, O’Brien introduces two characters : Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and Ted Lavender, who both contributed to Cross’ feeling of culpability during the novel. When Lavender died, he had just “popped a tranquilizer” (11). Cross was too busy daydreaming about “Martha playing volleyball in her white gym shorts and yellow T-shirt” (22). Cross’ mind wasn’t where it should’ve been, just as Lavender shouldn’t have taken that tranquilizer and he knew that. After Lavender’s death, Cross wanted to make sure that what happened to him wouldn’t happen to anybody else. He became strict with everybody including himself, “No more fantasies, he told himself” (23). He couldn’t stand by and watch his soldiers die one by one because of his fantasizing and lack of leadership skills. To Cross, Lavenders was his fault he hated that feeling of guilt. He hated it almost as much as the thought of another dead soldier on his watch. Death was one weight he didn’t want to carry anymore. He did not enjoy it and wanted to ensure that he never had to deal with the emotional weight of death again. He, like the other soldiers, was scared of death. The soldiers looked death in the eye multiple times; it took a huge toll on them. O‘Brien rationalizes with the thought of death by writing, even though he carries the thought of Kiowa’s death constantly. “ I returned to the site of Kiowa’s death, and where I looked for signs of forgiveness or personal grace or whatever else the land might offer” (173). O’Brien implies that he still thinks about Kiowa’s death from time to time. He looked for signs of clemency when he and his daughter visited the site of Kiowa’s death. He couldn’t help that the thought of Kiowa’s killing was all that was on his mind. It was a burden in itself. During his trip with Kathleen, his ten-year -old daughter, they had a conversation about the meaning behind the war. Kathleen asked him what he wanted from the war, and he simply replied “To stay alive” (175). Most of the soldiers all had the same goal from the war, to stay alive. Nobody wants to die, especially in a place you’re in because you’re too prideful to run away and say “I don’t want to go to the war and die.”
Pride is another frequently declared burden in the novel. Several of the men in the novel experience the mental weight of having pride issues. When Mark Fossie’s fiancé left him, he tried his hardest to still be the strong soldier his platoon knew him as. “ He tried hard to keep up a self-assured pose, as if nothing had ever come between them, or ever could, but there was a fragility to it, something tentative and false” (99). He didn’t want to look like a love-struck punk in front of his fellow platoon members. He also didn’t want to let himself believe that he was as in love as he was. He wanted to convince himself that he was still strong, even though one of his fellow soldiers saw him collapse (95). He didn’t want to embarrass himself. Curt Lemon went through a similar situation. When the unit of soldiers were on Rocket Pocket in China, a dentist team came to quickly examine the men’s mouths. Lemon was scared of the dentist;...
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