7 Mar 2013
Literary Analysis of “The Things They Carried”
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O'Brien depicts a platoon of soldiers serving in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was fought during the 1960/70's in the country of Vietnam. It was an unusually brutal war and many veterans suffered for years after from their traumatic experiences. The author tells of all the things they carried from weapons to the emotional burden of wartime. Short memories are recalled, and insights to the characters are developed as everything the soldiers carried are revealed. The author tells stories of many of the soldiers missions and escapades. The Author effectively uses the elements of fiction: tone, style, and symbolism to help the reader understand the soldiers hardships in the Vietnam War.
Tim O’Brien uses the tone of the story to enhance the view of the hardships the soldiers faced. Throughout the story a soldier named Ted Lavender is mentioned. He was killed by an enemy and his death is talked about often. The author uses a cold, unemotional tone to make Ted Lavender's death a common topic . O'Brien writes on page 347, “ But Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried thirty-four rounds when he was shot in the head outside Than Ke, and he went down under an exceptional burden... He was dead weight. There was no twitching or flopping.” The flatness expressed by the author is used to show the hardships on the soldiers mental state. Another mentioning of Lavenders death says, “...before Lavender died,..”(O'Brien 348), and another says, “After the chopper that took Lavender away, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led his men into the village of Than Ke. They burned everything.”(O'Brien 353) In reaction to the Vietnamese soldiers shooting Ted, the soldiers get what they call revenge. They killed everyone in the village and burned it to the ground. This gruesome writing helps portray the tone the author used, cold and dark. The death of Ted Lavender was made to be almost conversational, something to be talked about, but in reality the soldiers were just so hardened by death and their savage lives in the forests of Vietnam that the death of Ted Lavender didn't effect them like a “normal” person.
The style the author uses helps portray the reality of the hardships in Vietnam. His style is more repetitive and conversational. In Ted Lavender's case the author repeatedly brings him up throughout the story . O'Brien does this in order to show the reader that the soldiers still thought and talked about him often even after his passing. The author's use of conversationalist style is proven in the passage, “ Lee Strunk made a funny ghost sound, a kind of moaning, yet very happy, and right then, when Strunk made that high happy moaning sound, when he went Ahhooooo, right then Ted Lavender was shot in the head on his way back from peeing. He lay with his mouth open. The teeth were broken. There was a swollen black bruise under his left eye. The cheekbone was gone. Oh shit, Rat Kiley said, the guys dead. I mean really.”(O'Brien 351) The conversational style used by the author helps bring to life how the soldiers actually dealt with these hard times, and how they tried their hardest to stay positive during the war. The passage shows the soldiers finally being happy and celebrating survival of a mission, then Lavender is shot. The dialogue goes from happy back to the brutal text of “Oh shit, the guys dead”. The style of writing prevalent in “The Things They Carried” helps to really let the reader understand the brutal and tragic hardships the soldiers faced in Vietnam.
The most important element of fiction used by the author is symbolism. “The Things They Carried” is full of symbols that really help the reader understand the emotional state of the soldiers and how they felt under all the stress and turmoil of war. An example of this is seen when the author writes, “In the first week of April, before Lavender died, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross received a good-luck charm from Martha. It was a simple pebble, an ounce at most. Smooth to the touch, it was a milky-white color with flecks of orange and violet, oval-shaped, like a miniature egg... She 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 it up 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.” (O'Brien 348) This pebble starts out as a symbol for Martha's feelings for Lt. Cross, but ends up being more than that. While the pebble is a symbol of Marthas feelings, it is also a symbol of Lt. Cross's emotional/mental state. The pebble is always with Lt. Cross and he constantly keeps it in his mouth. This pebble is constantly moving around being rolled and tumbled and put from place to place, and all these movements show how unbalanced and jumbled Lt. Cross is mentally. Another symbol is the actual things they carried. A quote from the story says, “ What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly a field of specialty. As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45 caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men. As an RTO, Mitchell Sanders carried the PRC-25 radio, a killer, twenty six pounds with its battery.” (O'Brien 346) While what they carry and the weight of what they carried is seen commonly, the things they carried also have a deeper meaning. Each man bore an emotional burden on top of what they carried. The author includes the description and weights to give a deeper meaning to more than guns and equipment. They carried the weight of their lives, their other soldiers, and the huge burden of knowing they too could die any minute. The symbolism referencing the mental burdens, and the symbolism for the mental state of a soldier found in the story play a major part in understanding the hardships the soldiers faced in Vietnam, by giving them a deeper meaning that shows the mental state of the soldiers.
“The Things They Carried”, by Tim O'Brien shows readers the harsh and cold realities of a soldier in the Vietnam War. Soldiers died and things had to keep moving. The cold unemotional tone set for this story plays a crucial role in enhancing the hardships the soldiers faced on a day to day basis. The repetitive and conversational style the author used really helped to understand the characters of the story and how they were feeling, or not feeling. Symbolism in the short story was also used to deepen the meaning of the things they carried and intensify their hardships. The author used these elements of fiction to successfully convey the message that the soldiers faced serious hard times during the Vietnam War and there was more to it than carrying a lot of supplies.