“The Details of Military Life in Vietnam in Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’”
“The Things They Carried” is a story based on the experiences of young American soldiers fighting during the Vietnam War. The story begins giving you insight into the thoughts of the soldiers, describing to you what they humped along with them through their walk in the deep jungle of Vietnam. Some of those things were necessities “P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing-gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets” (81) and some were objects to give them hope. Throughout the story you follow a young platoon of men on their journey through the jungle never knowing which day could be the last day of their lives. The author, Tim O’Brien, using very accurate description and detail gives us insight into their emotions and thoughts along their journey.
The Vietnam War was fought in the 1960s and 1970s. The war was fought between the communist North Vietnam and noncommunist South Vietnam. The United States stepped in to help South Vietnam and prevent the spread of communism. The United States was forced out of their traditional way of fighting into Vietnam where the fighting was mainly guerrilla warfare that took place in the heavy jungle on a mountainous region with few grassy plateaus. Travel was nearly impossible except by foot, and when it was possible by a vehicle it was slow and difficult often getting attacked by combatants when they were the most vulnerable. The mountains made air to ground visibility nearly impossible making our soldiers endure not only hostile fire but indirect friendly fire. Tim O’Brien describes how the men were forced to walk through the jungle by foot slowly comparing them to moving like mules through the hot sticky jungle. The climate being hot and humid made the trip for our soldiers extremely difficult. The harsh conditions and the toll it took on the soldiers bodies being forced to carry what they needed to simply survive leaving behind simple luxuries such as underwear and toothpaste. “They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up again and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another” (86).
The story focuses on the emotions of the soldiers and describes how they endured extreme emotional torture during their time at war. All of them taken away from their homes and being thrown into a terrorizing unfamiliar area then given a gun and being told to fight most of them being young and having no combat experience. Tim O’Brien explains the amount of emotional stress each man carried “They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing-these were intangibles, but intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight” (89). He describes how their fear affected even what supplies they brought with them from the amount of ammunition, to pocket knives, and even food. One of the soldiers in the story, Ted Lavender carried tranquilizers with him because he was scared of the physical pain he might endure. “Depending on numerous factors, such as topography and psychology, the riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20 magazines” (82). All the men struggled through the jungle not knowing if they were going to make it from one day to the next some of them retreating by shooting off their own toes or fingers. Of the soldiers that stayed some of them resorted to superstition caring around good luck charms such as pebbles and a rabbit foot to bring them to the next sunrise. The soldiers were forced to see some of their own die “There was no twitching or flopping. Kiowa, who saw it happen, said it was like watching a rock fall, or a big sandbag or something-just boom, then down” (82). Causalities were...
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Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. 3rd Compact Ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2006. 80-91
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