Tim O’Brien’s The important things They Carried is a collection of essays, all fixated anecdotes of American soldiers during the Vietnam War. The seemingly straightforward recollections gradually reveal dense layers of individual and metaphorical significances upon closer assessment, with the expedition of the characters’ feelings and the underlying theme of love developing the opportunity to trace how war alters a person in the realm of his feelings. The Vietnam warfare acts as a driver for all of the disturbing modifications in the soldiers’ minds, raising the concern whether the battlefield is actively responsible for this outcome or simply accelerating the unavoidable manifestation of these personal concerns, fundamental in everyone.
In the collection of essays The important things They Carried, the specific selection of the four stories “The important things They Brought,” “The Lives of the Dead,” “Sweetheart of the Tune Tra Bong” and “Stockings” develops a concentrate on the obscurity of the modernist essays, hence communicating the damaging effect of war on individuals’s minds through the juxtaposition of contrasting analyses of the popular literary themes of love and enthusiasm. Through the dichotomy of the positive and unfavorable characteristics of the concepts, the anthology asserts the fragmentation of the soldiers’ minds and the feelings of confusion, isolation and unreliability, caused by war.
Love is represented as a significant motivation for much of the soldiers in the Vietnam War, with its sweet, innocent intents often leading the way for a much darker, even sinister reality, in which unrequited emotions or approval of regular love leave males based on love uncertain and revoked, searching for significance. The first reference of love is in “The Things They Brought,” when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’ strong infatuation with Martha is exposed. His mindset appears innocent enough as he “want [s] Martha to enjoy him as he enjoyed her” (1 ). The reciprocity of this pure feeling, illustrated by the repetition of “love,” is quickly shot down as the officer is represented as obsessed with Martha’s rejection of him rather than just in love. Among the most striking minutes that interweaves the violent nature of war with his memories of the lady is presented in his desire to “carr [y] her up the stairs to her room and t [ie] her to the bed and [touch] that left knee all night long” (4 ). The run-on structure of the sentence communicates the unhealthy excitement of a guy who plays this moment over and over once again in his mind. In the context of war, such an act does not appear too severe of harmful, but from a human standpoint it is still unthinkable. The character’s desensitization at the hands of the violence of Vietnam bleeds into his universal judgment of right and wrong, resulting in his reminiscence of Martha’s love handling a disquieting tone.
The same concept of reliving past love forms the foundation of “The Lives of the Dead,” in which Tim O’Brien’s recollection of his puppy love, Linda, is transformed from an unfortunate story about loss to a dark memory that haunts him in the battleground. In the very beginning of the story, he highlights the strength and pureness of the juvenile relationship. “It’s appealing to dismiss it as a crush, an infatuation of youth, but I know for a reality that what we felt for each other was as deep and abundant as love can ever get. It had all the shadings and intricacies of fully grown adult love, and perhaps more, because there were not yet words for it, and due to the fact that it was not yet repaired to comparisons or chronologies or the methods by which grownups determine such things” (216 ). He speaks exceptionally fondly of these feelings, creating the sensation of an ideal, honorable relationship, however in the context of the war, when again this reminiscence seems out of place and abnormal. O’Brien’s memory of Linda is set off upon seeing a dead guy, showed as having “his right arm gone … at his face … flies and gnats” (214 ). The a growing number of he explores the tale of Linda’s death, the more morbid the connection between the war and love becomes. Mentally, war twists the soldiers’ grasp of the world, typically leading to unusual associations like O’Brien “picturing Linda’s face” (215) all day upon seeing the very first casualties of Vietnam. In his mind, the connection in between these events appears logical, however in the realm of healthy thinking, there is something unusual in between the deaths of a childhood love from cancer and an old villager from just being shot. As soon as again, the symbol of love ends up being tainted by the method the soldiers, shaken by the violent nature of war, reminisce about their feelings at the most improper minutes, frequently with disastrous outcomes. The intrinsic connection in between love and death that is engraved in both of the characters in these stories portrays their turmoil through the failure to handle the terrible war in any way that does not develop a disturbing dichotomy with the innocence of love.
The reluctance to let go of these feelings and organize one’s top priorities during wartime is the driving plot point in “The Things They Brought,” but can likewise be observed in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” and “Stockings,” where the repeating style is the failure of the soldiers to keep the two parts of their lives separate without consequence. Fixed on the idea of bringing his sweetheart over at the fight camp, Mark Fossie alters the balance of his relationship with Mary Anne drastically however still insists on having things remain the way they were. His disillusionment lies in that he highlights his naïve girlfriend, opens her eyes to the extreme truth of the world, but still expects her to reside in the bubble of their child-like relationship. Love is portrayed as an unfortunate situation that gives rise to a much bigger problem than anticipated, the corruption of a girl by the untapped power of violence. Similar to the other stories, the instincts and expectations of love are twisted, with Fossie not believing plainly about safeguarding his sweetheart in the very beginning of the story, however later attempting to stop her from forming her own identity. “When we initially got here– everyone– we were real young and innocent, full of romantic bullshit, but we discovered pretty damn quick. Therefore did Mary Anne,” (93) Rat Kiley concludes. This thought presents the fundamental conflict in between the romantic comfort of the past and the extreme truth of the war, with the two proving to be immiscible without some sort of repercussions, be it death or change of identity. This idea is repeated throughout the story through the extreme contrasting imagery of Mary Anne’s past and present actions. From a symbol of American wholesomeness and unfamiliarity with the war, exhibited by the mainstream imagery of “seventeen years of ages, fresh out of Cleveland Heights Senior High School [with] long white legs and blue eyes and a complexion like strawberry ice cream” (89) and “white culottes and this hot pink sweatshirt” (86 ), she develops into a personification of threat and bloodthirst, of the desire to eliminate. Vietnam unlocks totally brand-new instincts and yearnings inside her, leaving her with the realization that her individual life can not coexist with her lust for blood. Mary Anne’s withdraws her child-like romance with Fossie and with confidence embraces her brand-new persona, the transformation highlighted by the imagery of her “necklace of human tongues … lengthened and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather … one tongue overlapping the next, the pointers curled upward as if caught in a final screeching syllable” (106 ). The grotesque, inhumane nature of this accessory, together with the focus on “blackened leather,” shows the shift from simply assisting in the war to actively delighting in the mercenary pursuit and murder. In contrast to her swift dismissal of previous love, Mark Fossie’s reaction is that of disbelief and sorrow. His prepare for their life together “in the common circulation of their lives … might well have come true,” (90) however in Vietnam, his own actions are to blame for the disturbing events that follow. The battlefield demands of soldiers to focus on the greater good over their own personal programs, and Fossie’s failure to do so unlocks the violent beast, fundamental in Mary Anne. In their relationship, they are symbolically 2 sides of the very same coin; with the attempts of experiencing love throughout wartime leaving an individual with the harsh reality of having to devote to only one of the 2.
Mark Fossie’s disappointment and torment in losing grip of past love is also observed in “Stockings” through the story of Henry Dobbins, “drawn towards sentimentality” (111 ). His technique of coping with the present is through a memento of his girlfriend, a set of nylon stockings. As his best of luck beauty, the stockings prove to be important to him as they at the same time serve as a reminder of the past, a convenience for the present, and a goal for the future. After his separation with the girlfriend, Dobbins is forlorn and troubled, but quickly adheres to his routine of “arranging the nylons around his neck, carefully connecting a knot, draping the two leg areas over his left shoulder” (112 ). This regular action, while not as dark as the other explorations of love, portrays his unwillingness of letting go of the past and accepting such a modification in his life. With all of the stockings’ meaning beckoning to a reunion with his sweetheart, it appears odd of him to continue utilizing them despite the improbability of ever being with her again. He actively chooses to continue residing in his own truth as it offers the very best convenience possible at wartime. These 2 essays provide the confusion and isolation that war brings upon individuals, frequently causing them to look for significance in aspects of the past. The inescapable change of this past in turn causes the characters much more turmoil as the only continuous thing in their life, love, has been reversed and they are left even more out of center than before. Love is bad coping system, never truly able to mix with the extreme truth of war, leaving each person included altered, either looking back at the past for convenience or completely revoking it.
The four stories all convey the domino effect of love in the extreme conditions of the Vietnam War through the contrast in between the initial comfort and happiness that like brings and the numerous methods which it deciphers, leaving the people to cope in unforeseeable ways. Through the prism of the gruesome fights, enjoy becomes broken down and twisted in odd instructions, leaving the soldiers even more baffled and unpredictable. They end up being emotionally lost and separated as their reminiscence, serving as an anchor, is rendered helpless due to the fast deterioration of relationships or as the harsh, carnal nature of war becomes interwoven in their mind with the sweet innocence of love, leaving them incapable of remembering one without the other, with the outcome being discouragement, agitation or total modification of identity.