In Tim O'Brien's short story "The Things They Carried" the soldiers take with them physical and psychological baggage. The tangible items each man carries are based on necessity, job description, and emotional need. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, and Norman Bowker carry good luck charms. On the surface the charms represent the men's need to feel a sense of protection. However, the talismans hold a deeper significance symbolizing two conflicts soldiers face in time of war; the need to hold on to hope, and the desire to distance themselves from the inhumanity of warfare. Lieutenant Cross carries with him a small, smooth, white pebble which Martha, a young women who writes to Jimmy, sent to him. "In the accompanying letter, Martha wrote that she had found the pebble on the Jersey shoreline, precisely where the land touched water at high tide, where things came together but also separated. It was this separate-but-together quality, she wrote, that had inspired her to pick up the pebble and to carry it in her breast pocket for several days, where it seemed weightless, and then to send it through the mail, by air, as a token of her truest feelings for him" (68). Throughout the story Cross spends a majority of his time daydreaming about Martha. He pretends that she loves him, and envisions her life back home. These fantasies represent Jimmy's innermost hopes, his desire to be loved, and the need to feel that someone is waiting for him to return. Even though Jimmy knows his daydreams are far fetched the pebble is a tangible object he can touch, taste, and see. Lieutenant Cross's good luck charm gives him something physical to hold on to, enabling him to cling to the hope that he will survive the war and lead a normal life when he returns home. Moreover, Jimmy also uses the pebble to feed his fantasies "through the hot days of early April, he carried the pebble in his mouth, turning it with his tongue, tasting sea salts and moisture. His mind...
Cited: O 'Brien, Tim. "The Things They Carried." Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 2005. 65-76.
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