Analysis of The Things They Carry by Tim O'Brien

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The Things They Carried: A Narrative of Soldiers in the Vietnam War

The Things They Carried is a narrative about a group of soldiers in the Vietnam War. Tim O'Brien tells the story form the second person's point of view, giving precise details of the emotions and the life of the soldiers during the entire period. The author provides the emotional, physical, and existential struggles that the soldiers face, drawing the reader into the incidences of the narrative. This paper, therefore, will examine, analyze, and interpret the texts in the novel The Things They Carried.

The Burden of Carrying: Emotions and Reality

O'Brien overtly allows the reader to see the burden the soldiers carry on their shoulders with repetition, imagery, and figurative language. The story is laden with the theme of death, love, and hope as it talks of the experience and the changing feelings the soldiers have each waking day of the war. True to its title, The Things They Carried, O'Brien describes in detail the items each soldier carried, including their emotional loads (Bloom 121). Some of the items include ammunition, grenades, and pictures of their loved ones, pocketknives, chewing gum, mosquito repellant, and love letters (Bloom 121). Throughout the account, O'Brien uses the items as a point of reference to ensure the reader comprehends the physical as well as the emotional state of the soldiers. The items they carry are in great contrast since some represent reality while other objects represent their fantasy world. The pictures and the love letters acted as an escape from the reality of war. However, such dwelling on the fantasy world led to significant consequences. For example, Lieutenant Cross is obsessed with a letter from his lover Martha that leads to total negligence of his duty as the leader of the troop. He is rendered completely irresponsible, and when one of the soldiers named Lavender dies, Lieutenant Cross can only regret his actions and fascination with the letter.

The Significance of the First Chapter

The first chapter of the book is critical to the development and comprehension of the novel. The description of the objects each soldier caries defines their characteristics, fears, dreams, and hopes. For instance, O'Brien states that Ted Lavender had tranquilizers and additional ammunition. The statement shows that Lavender is a scared individual. He hopes that the additional ammunition will be a source of protection and the tranquilizer will help him to calm down. The account by O'Brien also depicts that Ted did not enter the war on his own volition, so he tries to hide his anxiety and fear through the ammunition he carries and the tranquilizers he "pops" each day.

"Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried 34 rounds when he was shot and killed outside Than Khe, and he went down under an exceptional burden, more than 20 pounds of ammunition, plus the flak jacket and helmet and rations and water and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighed fear" (O'Brien 6). In this sentence, O'Brien captures a lot of emotion as well as the physical state of Lavender. He posits that Lavender fell heavily on the ground; the heavy fall was due to the loads he carried. The heavy fall signifies the fall of his physical and emotional burden; his death freed him from the entire load he was carrying. The irony is evident in the sentence, despite the fact that he carried additional ammunition for protection, he still perished. O'Brien describes Lavender's death as sudden, since it was not expected and created the mood of suspense for the readers along with the characters in the storyline. The sudden death is a heavy loss that weighs on the attachment the soldiers had for each other and the attachment the reader has with the characters. O'Brien tries to elucidate to the reader that death is a dark and often sudden part of war which jolts people into the reality of losing their close friends.

"This was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war." (O'Brien 16). The sentence uses figurative language to describe the feeling the raconteur felt when Lavender died. For example, in this statement, the reader experiences the guilt Lieutenant felt when Lavender died due to his negligence. The figurative language lets the reader understand the decisions and the fear that the soldiers lived with during the war. Similarly, the sentence, "There were times of panic, when they squealed or wanted to squeal but couldn't, when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said Dear Jesus and flopped around on the earth and fired their weapons blindly and cringed and sobbed and begged for the noise to stop and went wild and made stupid promises to themselves and to God and to their mothers and fathers, hoping not to die" (O'Brien 18). He illustrates to the reader that even soldiers are normal people. They are afraid of death, they may appear tough, composed, and fearless, but they are still human beings who are traumatized by the deaths and the uncertainty of life in war zones.


In conclusion, The Things They Carried is a captivating story that talks about life of soldiers during war. O'Brien describes the soldiers' characteristics using the items they carry physically and emotionally. He employs the use of imagery and figurative language to show the struggles soldiers face as well as the pressure war places on their shoulders. O'Brien exemplifies that the items that the men carried were actually their biggest burdens.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold, ed. The Things They Carried. Infobase Publishing, 2009.

O'brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

August 21, 2023



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