Symbolism of Items in “the Things They Carried” by Tim O’ Brien
Each soldier in the story “humps” an object of escape in the form of imagination, fantasy, or mind altering substances. The protagonist, Lt. Jimmy Cross, means of escape is love. This is brought through in vivid detail about his obsession, a girl from back home named Martha. He reads her letters, stares at her pictures, and will even “sometimes taste the envelope flaps,” (392) all the while understanding her affections are not returned. This is referenced symbolically with the mention of her volleyball picture “in her white gym shorts and yellow t-shirt,” (402). By which yellow represents the color of friendship.
Rat Kiley uses imagination as an escape through his comic books just as Kiowa carries a New Testament bible, not only to read but also for the comforting smell of it. Mitchell Sanders fills his need by fantasizing sexual liaisons by carrying condoms and tiger fatigues, the same as Henry Dobbins has his girlfriends pantyhose “around his neck as a comforter,” (396). Ted Lavender escapes through the use of tranquilizers and dope and Rat Kiley with brandy, both in hope of taking the edge off the reality which is fear beyond comprehension.
Other items of “necessity” were chosen for a sense of security, no matter how useless, and some for the feeling of control over a small part of their lives. Lee Strunk carries a slingshot so that ammo “would never be a problem,” (396) against men with guns and grenades. Kiowa thinks that moccasins will help to silence his movements even though he is burdened with