The Things They Carried

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In daily life, there are times when an individual wish he/she could escape from certain situation and live a normal life free from the challenges he/she is going through. In a bid of doing this, some people use particular objects as a representation of something they desire or miss in life. This statement perfectly describes the how the soldiers in O’Brien novel “The Things They carried” perceived the items that they took with them to war. An unknown narrator describes the story using the third person and the first reading of the novel provides the reader with a clear picture of what the story is all about and the significance of the title. The story catalogs the various things the soldiers carried on their way to different missions. The narrator is the protagonist and starts by providing a detailed description of the event that transpired during the Vietnam experience. Throughout the novel, the same characters reappear in various stories. In this novel, O’Brien highlights the challenges that the soldiers go through by emphasizing on the items that each soldier carried on each mission. In this regard, this paper will discuss why this technique employed by the narrator is effective and how he is able to provide detailed information about the war using this approach.

Throughout the novel, O’Brien provides a list of the entire item that each soldier carried on their way to war. In this regard, he is able to highlight to the reader the challenge that each individual goes through or carries on his life. The items provide the reader with a recap on an individual’s emotional and physical burden, which in return presents the microcosm of the reality of the war and what the soldiers go through as they struggle with personal issues. For instance, Lieutenant Cross carries the letters and photographs of his college girlfriend Martha as a reminder of her although she did not show any indication of returning the love he had for her. Moreover, while still in Vietnam, Cross uncontrollably wonders whether his girlfriend Martha is still a virgin or she had found someone else back at home (O'Brien 221). The thoughts of having her tied to the bed and touching her knees throughout the night haunt him since he understood that his love for her might never be reciprocated. Through the description of Cross and the letters together with the photographs he carried on his bag, O'Brien creates a unique dimension that tries to show the reader that soldiers are not machines, but rather are human beings with feelings and desire to be loved and appreciated. In this regard, the novel depicts the cruel reality of the world that the soldiers live while protecting their country.

The fact that O’Brien describes each individual with different items and objects allows each character in the text to be introduced with a history and in a unique way that is different from each other in the group. Moreover, the cataloging of each person creates fuller composites of each character. For instance, O’Brien explains that “Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.” (O’Brien 219). In this case, the narrator tells the reader about the character of Kiowa as a religious man and at the same time describes his desires to escape the realities that he is facing through the smell of the Bible. Kiowa imagines himself escaping from the war around him when he smells the scent of the Bible (O'Brien 220). Through the Bible, O’Brien is able to portray to the reader the significance of religion to Kiowa as part of his identity. For instance, Kiowa character is further revealed as being religious when he opposed the decision of his comrades to camp in a semi-abandoned pagoda basing his argument on the importance of respecting all churches.

In addition, through the description of the different items that the soldiers carry with them on the field, O’Brien manages to tell about the war itself and their attitudes toward what they do. Moreover, the technique enables the experiences that the soldiers go through to be more comprehensible to the reader. For instance, the nervous Ted Lavender carries with him tranquilizers and marijuana in order to calm himself down when under intense pressure to perform (O'Brien 222). In the novel, O’Brien states that, “Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s panty hose wrapped around his neck as a comforter” (O’Brien 224). In this case, the author tries to portray the character and attitude of Dobbins as being superstitious, anxious, and afraid of the war. In addition to Dobbin belief that the pantyhose acted as a good luck charm to him, the presence of the stockings and their scents brought hope and a sense of security to him as the scent brought the memories of his girlfriend who had dumped him.

In a concluding remark, although the items that O’Brien chooses to use to describe the different characters can be seen as being fairly simple, the technique is starling and effective. The life of the different individuals engaged in the war is brought to light by identifying them with the objects they carry around. Moreover, the fact that the author tells the reader about the objects the soldiers under different circumstances make the character and history of each individual to stand out from the rest. The reality of everyday life that the soldiers go through is clearly illustrated in the novel with the narrator giving more significant details about the war using the simple tools that the soldiers carry. The objects comfort the individuals in different ways as they struggle with the war and long for their normal life free from the situation they were in.

Works Cited

O'Brien, Tim. "The Things They Carried."(1991).

November 24, 2023




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