“The Things They Carried”
“The Things They Carried”, by Tim O’Brien, is a story about the things that 12 soldiers carried with them, while fighting in the Vietnam War. From the beginning of the story, the reader can tell that the physical load that the soldiers carried was extreme. What is not so obvious is the emotional load that comes along with war. The greatest weight a soldier bears comes from nothing they can physically carry, but from their thoughts and emotions. Grief, fear, love, and longing are all burdens on a soldier. It is these things that weigh a soldier down.
O’Brien begins the story by describing the items that the soldiers carried. The war dictated some of the items as “necessities”. The soldiers also carried personal items that gave them a sense of home. These tangible items varied depending on the soldier. The job or rank of the soldier dictated the amount of necessities that they carried. Because Lieutenant Cross was the leader, he was not responsible for carrying the heavy items, such as the M-60 machine gun. He carried the lighter items, such as the maps and compasses, but also carried the heavy responsibility of keeping his soldiers safe. Sometimes the fears that the soldiers had would also play into what was carried. Scared Ted Lavender carried tranquillizers and “six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity.” (p596) O’Brien is very precise in his description of the tangible items that the soldiers carried. However, his writing becomes much more expressive when he is describing the intangible items. A great deal of emotional weight is added by the thoughts and raw emotions of the soldiers. These are the things that cannot be weighed in pounds.
Each soldier carried with them a false toughness on the outside and emotional baggage on the inside. They were portrayed as brave and courageous, yet they seemed deadened to the fact that they could die at any moment. “They used a hard vocabulary to contain the...
Cited: O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Carried.” Literature. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson, 2010. 595-607. Print.
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