In The Things They Carried, as the title suggests author and Vietnam war veteran Tim O’Brien carefully explains all of the needs of warfare carried by the males with whom he shared the war. In addition to the weapons and gear required for survival they carried within themselves the images and memories of home. O’Brien explains the different short articles carried by people along with the much heavier products they would take turns bring. The heaviest were “the things guys brought within” (25 ).
Due to the fact that of the heaviness it was frequently too much for one man and “they shared the weight of memory. They used up what others could no longer bear” (14 ). O’Brien suggests the heaviest memories were of love ones, especially other halves and girlfriends. Obrien describes the attributes of the memories of love in a battle zone, memories that could be a conserving grace or a hazardous self-destructive weapon.
Females inhabit a really unique location for the males of O’Brien’s platoon as they do for combat soldiers all over.
The women they know and love, mothers, siblings, better halves and sweethearts, are tens of thousands of miles away. At times they are as mentally and mentally far-off as they are in geographic terms. When firefights rage the soldiers’ ideas by requirement end up being repaired and focused on the chaos of fight surrounding them and the idea of ladies can be fleeting or disruptive. It might be an idea of the enjoyed one they wish to see if they survive, or the thought may sidetrack them and cost them their life or the life of another soldier.
Ladies are as genuine as their brilliant dreams yet upon awakening there is the doubt they ever existed. The space they inhabit is the nervous and unnerving world mixed with hope and doubt, joy and anxiety. With their letters they offer a link to the real world when occupied by the soldiers who may wonder if the females will be there for them if and when they return. The soldier may hope their sweetheart will exist and question she will understand. The idea of the girlfriend might provide a strong foundation on which to live on another day, or with a “dear John” letter accidentally provide a relatively helpless anxiety. The women occupy a space unlike any other area in the ideas of the combat soldier.
For Lieutenant Jimmy Cross the thought of “Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey” was a constant preoccupation (1 ). She was a day-to-day part of his life, and he had a ceremonial devotion to seeing photographs of her. She was in numerous methods the personification of the contradictions females occupied in soldiers’ thoughts. She was not rather a serious sweetheart and lover who was dedicated to him and would be awaiting him. In fact their relationship before the war was one-sided:
And then suddenly, without willing it, he was thinking about Martha … why so alone? Not lonely, just alone … and it was her aloneness that filled him with love. He kept in mind telling her that a person night. How she nodded and looked away. And how, later, when he kissed her, she received the kiss without returning it …” (11-12).
Yet Cross would not let go of his attachment to her. He blamed it for the death of one of his soldiers; “now Ted Lavender was dead because he enjoyed her so much and could not stop thinking of her” (7 ). He felt that because of his preoccupation with her he stopped working to supervise his guys and as a result Lavender was shot. As a result Cross chooses to burn her pictures and letters. Now “he disliked her. Yes, he did. He hated her. Love, too, but it was a difficult, disliking type of love” (24 ). His sensations for her were just among the numerous contradictions of the war.
In some ways ladies became almost wonderful, and occupied the superstitious and surreal world of the ideas and actions of males in battle. “Henry Dobbins brought his sweetheart’s pantyhose twisted around his neck as a comforter. They all brought ghosts” (10 ). The stockings provided Dobbins the memories that comforted him. Later on he became convinced it really was a good-luck charm as a boobytrap failed to detonate after he tripped it and after that made it through a vicious firefight (117-118). For Dobbins and others the pantyhose “gave access to a spiritual world” and even after he receives a “dear John” letter he maintains the pantyhose specifying “the magic doesn’t disappear” (118 ).
Other females, real or imagined entered the males’s lives through their stories. The most dramatic stories “are those that swirl back and for the throughout the border between trivia and chaos, the mad and the ordinary” (89 ). O’Brien recounts the story of the “Sweetheart of the Tune Tra Bong”, the sweetheart of a soldier who manages to have her check out him at his medical-aid base (89-91).
“Mary Ann” is however seventeen years old, however rapidly adapts to the blood and gore of her sweetheart’s task and ends up being a valuable assistant treating the injured. However then she becomes increasingly more focused to the war, the culture and the environment of Vietnam. She ends up being friendly with, and then a part of a contingent of the weird and isolated “greenies”, Special Forces soldiers stationed at the base. She ultimately ends up being a part of them.
Soon she can not be discovered in spite of her sweetheart’s search. According to the story she began going out with the Green Berets on battle missions. When she returned she was no longer what she had been.
He had a tough time acknowledging her. She used a bush hat and unclean green tiredness; she brought the standard M-16 automated assault rifle; her face was black with charcoal. Mary Ann handed (her sweetheart) the weapon. “I’m exhausted,” she stated. “We’ll talk later on.” (102 )
Regardless of her sweetheart’s effort to get her away from the Green Berets and send her home she is hooked; “Vietnam had the result of an effective drug” (114 ). Soon, the story goes, Mary Ann disappears into the jungle, never to be heard from once again, just occasionally spotted as a ghostly figure in the jungle. It is as though she served as a metaphor for the space occupied by ladies in the war. They were far away in a land so remote it no longer appeared to exist. Then against all odds the soldier has the ability to literally import the lady he enjoys. Then the war modifications whatever and destroys the relationship.
For O’Brien ladies also occupy a double yet inconsistent space in his life. His first puppy love is likewise his first accident with death. Although he and his sweetheart are only nine, O’Brien “understand(s) for a truth that what we felt for each other was as deep and rich as love can ever get” (228 ). Tragically she is struggling with a fatal disease and passes away. For O’Brien the memory of her, like his memory of fallen associates, is and constantly will be sharp and vibrant.
For O’Brien the lost buddies and lost sweetheart are joined in death and brought back to life in the memories and stories of those who endure. It is the brilliant image of a casualty of the war that inexplicably reminds him of his young girlfriend Linda; “all day long I ‘d been visualizing Linda’s face, the method she smiled” (228 ). For O’Brien the dead will always be in a sense alive. The fallen troops and Linda are “all dead. However in a story, which is sort of dreaming, the dead in some cases smile and stay up and return to the world” (225 ).
If O’Brien’s lost sweetheart is a link to the departed his daughter Kathleen is the vision of life. He brings her to Vietnam when she is only ten, and seems to serve as the woman who will help him break his link to the deaths of Vietnam. She is too young to understand why her dad has journeyed off the typical traveler sites to discover the spot where a friend was eliminated and the body lost in the mire of a swampy river.
She witnesses him as he performs a routine burial of his late pal’s moccasins in the spot they found his body. It is though she is his tether back to reality, today and life itself. Childish she chastises him for his actions and can not understand the importance of the places she visits. She tells him he is “odd” for coming back to Vietnam, innocently announcing “Like coming over here. Some dumb thing occurs a very long time ago and you can’t ever forget it” (183 ).
She presents the counterpoint of his life in Vietnam and it had to be an odd feeling for O’Brien to see his daughter in an area of Vietnam that is considerably various than the Vietnam of O’Brien’s death. It brings up the idea and question of whether O’Brien, in his wildest ideas during his battle because place that his daughter would stand in the exact same spot years later. Unlike the other females of memories and dreams Kathleen is able to remain in Vietnam with him and help close that chapter of his life. As she notices a Vietnamese farmer looking at her father Kathleen asks if the old male is mad at her dad. “No,” replies O’Brien, “All that’s finished” (188 ).
For O’Brien it appears as though he needs the female characters to make the connection in between love and war and life and death. It is not constantly an effective link. His fellow soldier Norman Bowker had carried an image of his sweetheart with him during his days and Vietnam however she had actually married. He saw her on his return, however while he could not bring himself to approach her and talk, he also could not pull himself from the memory and went past her home time and time (146 ). He later committed suicide.
Ladies appeared to inhabit the same space and supply the same ironic and contradictory thoughts as Vietnam itself. They were crucial to the combat soldiers, but not present with them, or present as a mysterious Mary Ann. They might provide a soldier a factor to survive or a factor to care less about living. They could be an interruption to take a soldier’s mind off of the war or an interruption which might add to the scary of war. Like Martha they might be enjoyed and disliked at the very same time. Like combat itself the women in the soldiers’ ideas were both intensely personal and yet common.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Brought. New York: Broadway Books, 1990.