The Relevance of The Short Stories in "The Things They Carry" and "Where Are You Going?"

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Question 1: Consider the stories we have read that feature young narrators or protagonists. Compare how two young adults respond to the challenges and opportunities presented to them in the story. In what ways are their lessons intended for the audience as well?

The short story "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates revolves around the main character Connie who is used by the author to describe the issues that affect teenagers. It is comparable to the book “The Things They Carried” is a story that revolves around the life of a group military men who were in the line of duty. Led by Jimmy Cross, the soldiers carry various objects with them including those that were relevant to the mission and those that were meant for personal satisfaction. The subject has drawn a debate on whether the short stories have some modern relevance or it is merely an illustration of the past. Nevertheless, despite being written over forty years ago, both narratives feature some present relevance for the contemporary society regarding the challenges that young people face pertaining love, separation, beauty, and social difficulties.

In the assessment of the themes described in the novels, the reader gets a bigger picture of what it means to live the life of being a young man or woman. Both men and women are expected to worry about their social position and while men focus on their career challenges, women focus on their beauty. In “The Things They Carried,” the greatest issue that is apparent is the love that Jimmy Cross had for the woman Martha. It appears that contrary to expectation, soldiers also have feelings and a sense of affection and sometimes they are unable to have the fun that other people have. The scene where Cross was mixed between hating and loving is intriguing, and it described the situation that many people find themselves when they are in love with someone who does not love them back. The author writes “Virginity was no longer an issue. He hated her. Yes, he did. He hated her. Love, too, but it was hard, hating kind of love” (Brien 23). At war, there are episodes when the troops have to endure losses when their men are killed. The case is not different in the novels as the author presents a case where Cross does not forgive himself for Lander’s death. The reader is also presented with an emotional scene where the soldiers had to accept the disappointment of having to separate with an old man they met at the war. “The author states, It was a sad scene when the choppers came to take us away” (Brien 32).

Meanwhile, in “Where are you Going, Where Have You Been,” Connie struggles to achieve maturity and independence despite her efforts being met with the brutal outcome. The subject of love is presented when Arnold Friend addresses Connie using sexual words despite being strangers to each other. ‘Yes, I am your lover’ (Oates 6). However, the greatest issue is that Connie thinks that her physical beauty defined her identity and self-confidence, a notion that is held by many female youths who believe their beauty is the sole center of attraction in the world today. The story reveals that Connie was fond of being glued to their mirrors as she used the mirror to see her current state of beauty. Besides, Connie gets criticized by her mother for persistently examining her reflection in mirrors (Oates 34). It is revealed that even when an unidentified car stops to give her way, her initial reaction checking her appearance rather than locking the doors.

The relevance of the behavior by the soldiers in “The Things They Carried” and “Where are you Going, Where Have You Been,” is that they are both appropriate to what the authors intended for the audience. Connie’s behavior and practice is particularly relevant in the modern society since women tend to value their beauty highly through applying various hairstyles and perceiving their hair as one of the essential components of the body that must be decorated and preserved. In fact, it is common to find that girls exhibit a similar trend today as many young women have developed the urge to decorate and enhance their beauty. Most ladies in the modern world use the mirrors to reflect on their appearances as pertains the beauty of their bodies. Meanwhile, the subject of love and feelings at the workplace including the emotions associated with trauma is relevant to the youth today who ae forced to balance their complicated social lives. In “The Things They Carried” the subject of the complexity of love remains among the primary motivations for the author to write the story of the experiences that soldiers have at war. In the end, the reader gets the moral that it is important to love soldiers back because they are humans as we are and they have feelings that complement the ones that we experience.

In conclusion, both stories appear to be very relevant in the modern society in various ways from the manner the characters address their social challenges.  The key considerations include the teenage culture and various themes including the love, death, and social awareness including the perception of beauty. Thus despite the stories’ setting being almost a half-decade ago they are still relevant in communicating major themes that affect young people in the present day.

Works Cited

Oates, Joyce Carol. ''Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been". 1966.

O’Brien, T. (1990). The Things They Carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

August 21, 2023




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