Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”
Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” is teeming with various subjects in the story. This essay will tackle the particular “things” O’Brien’s characters carry, both figurative and literal. Reading through the novel, I saw the different emotional loads carried by each character which then become hindrances to the manner in which they behave in battle and also following their settlement in their homes. In particular, this essay examines the theme of mental luggage brought by each man into the war that is, beliefs or objects, which hinder them from effective functionality in battle.
I. Characters” Anxieties and Burdens
Beginning with Henry Dobbins, who in the reading exhibits a benevolent and kind spirit, yet is somewhat superstitious as he wraps a pantyhose belonging to his girlfriend round his neck. At first, I found this humorous when I read it; however, there is a firm belief on Dobbin’s part that this practice will safeguard him in his daily endeavors. The pantyhose, therefore, becomes an item Dobbin wraps around his neck throughout the reading. One protagonist whose end is tragic due to the emotional burden he carries in Norman Bowker. Norman Bowker in the novel is portrayed as a quiet individual, often secluding himself, aggravated by Kiowa’s death, prompting him to return to his hometown restless and aloof. Norman puts up a front, like all is well with him, but this is where Norman eventually succumbs. Norman’s only alternative to unburden himself happens when he tells his story, he even asks Tim to pen down his story regarding the travails of life at war. Nonetheless, when the story ends up unsuccessful, Norman sees no meaning in his existence and eventually kills himself.
Jimmy Cross is another character carrying a burden. Here, it begins with a mental load cropping up from thinking about Martha, a lady Jimmy profoundly loves back in New Jersey. Martha returns no love to Jimmy, yet Jimmy carried this to war and credited to the distraction this entails, Jimmy is unable to save a dying man. Contemplating that it was his preoccupation with thoughts of Martha, Jimmy never forgives himself for the unfortunate incident and how irresponsible he was regarding the man’s life. Jimmy tried to accommodate Ted Lavender’s demise and seemed forever burdened by this even after he no more fought in the war. Jimmy also carries compasses and maps throughout the war.
II. Masculinity in the story
The mentioned ‘Soldiers’ are victims of various emotions, for example, hatred, stress, love, depression. The soldiers realize how important love and real-life relationships are. Jimmy Cross who fell prey to long-lost love attempted to let his past go and focus solely on his duties in vain. As the soldiers walked through the Vietnamese streets, they carried with themselves the basic survival necessities and souvenirs to remind them of home. All through these matches, the soldiers dispose of some of their supplies as they know they will soon gain much more. To the soldiers, war is similar to a game; there are always losers and winners. It can be played using many different tactics. Here, luck and strategy contribute significantly. Nonetheless, it is not entirely bad.
Some soldiers, who leave, soon return because to them peace ‘hurts’ too much. For some, the war is exhausting. This is mainly because of the losses they experience for example (Ted Lavender and Kiowa’s death). Death is a terrifying occurrence which frequently occurs bringing with it stress and pain. The soldiers fear to kill. The first murder being the hardest to stomach. The soldiers imagine the kinds of lives led by their enemies before getting into such a situation dark, deep marks remain within the lives and hearts of the soldiers as they spend never-ending days battling on the battling fields. The soldiers envision escaping the brutal reality and nature of war reason being they are incapable of eradicating fear from their minds and hearts. Most times, petty quarrels take place, some end in physical fights, which also result in renewed friendships, written pacts and trust, and ultimately ending in death and sorrow.
III. Effect of Emotional Burdens
O’Brien exhibits how silently bearing one’s burdens example painful memories do impede one from thoroughly enjoying life. Jimmy Cross’ character is conveyed even to suspect that the “Love” concluding all of Martha’s letters is just a figure of speech nothing more. Imprinted in Jimmy Cross’ mind and heart is Ted Lavender’s death. This is aggravated once more by the fact that Jimmy Cross discovers that in actuality, Martha never neither loved nor cared for him at all. Ted Lavender also bears his anxieties with war at war as he takes tranquilizers and smokes marijuana. In fact, the individuals fighting this war all carry their fears and anxieties with them, just repressing them since they are in battle. However, the absorptions of their hearts and minds are most times larger than the battle at hand. In sum, these soldiers find it difficult to tell their experiences thus the repressions of their experiences are brought along after the war is fought. The horrors and tragedies are carried back to each soldier’s respective home, leaving them distraught all the more.
O’Brien’s story asserts that men are fragile creatures who fall victim to emotions. A soldier’s life may appear to be filled with killing and hardship. But none knows the truth behind the lifeless eyes. As civilians, we wonder what war and the battlefields are like and how soldiers live on without emotion. When really, they share all emotions any human being would. Some display their feelings and confess their fears and love, whereas others hide by exhibiting a merciless attitude. Every experience is hard for them. Every new day presents a bigger challenge. If the cards are not dealt right, a loss occurs, sometimes many losses. This story is an important reminder regarding the horrors and brutalities of war. It informs us how war transforms the experiences of soldiers.
Indeed, the reading emphasizes the havoc brought by war after soldiers go into battle. These soldiers “carry” emotional burdens that persist long after each returns home upon the war’s conclusion. The conflicts in each soldier’s mind continuously erode their victims’ minds for their entire existence.