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The Masculinity Of The Vietnam Veterans in The Things They Carried


Many, if not all of them, were prepared reluctantly. They were asked to leave their families and their houses, their ladies or their kids, and they were told to pass away and kill for factors unclear. These soldiers marched through swamps and towns with mutilated children and, even after the first time they eliminated somebody or their best friends died, they were informed not to cry about it. This is what Tim O’Brien informs us in The important things They Carried, a story of how the beast of a war that surrounded his males demanded an indomitable front. If they exposed the weakness in themselves, they exposed it to each other, and such exposure was a reminder that none were as strong as they were expected to be. So they rely on other methods of coping, a few of which blur the extremely line in between best and wrong. The crude language and habits of the soldiers demonstrate that the forced masculinity troubled them as men and as warriors only serves to contribute to their injury.

The crude language of the soldiers appalls Tim O’Brien in the beginning: the relatively apathetic treatment of a dead kid in a ditch, the important things they ‘d say when a fellow soldier is shot in the head. They would not say dead, or eliminated: they would be as far from poetic as possible, stating greased or zapped while zipping. He comprehends eventually, and soon begins to embrace the mentality of the “tough vocabulary to include the awful softness (19 ).” The juxtaposition of the words “awful softness” recommends that the extreme things the soldiers state and do, while disconcerting and terrible to those not in their position, are absolutely nothing compared to the vulnerability of emotion that the soldiers would have dealt with otherwise. This unhealthy method of dealing with disaster is brought to a severe difficulty in the chapter “The Man I Killed”, when Tim O’Brien is left looking at the gory remains of the young soldier he had actually simply killed. He presents this dead character by bluntly giving the reader an unforgiving picture of the physical, inescapable information of the corpse. He finds, suddenly, that he can not shake off this death– that he can not bring himself to make any sort of joke nor any sort of offhand euphemism that would decrease the truth of what he had just done. “His jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were gone,” Tim O’Brien tells, “his one eye was shut, his other was a star-shaped hole” (118 ). Through these parallel expressions, the reader ends up being focused on the gruesome physicality of the dead person, simply as Tim O’Brien was. Not just do we comprehend his idea procedure, we deduce that this fixation advises him dramatically of the humankind of this enemy, which he and his soldiers had actually previously been so quickly getting rid of and objectifying. He is for that reason unaware of how to handle his feelings, or his thoughts, and is left only to fascination, his halting ideas entering circles. Naturally, the only guidance he is provided is to “stop looking” (122 ).

The soldiers quickly understand that if they can not manage themselves and their emotions or fate, they must rather control others. This is what they come to as a coping mechanism when they are challenged with extreme feeling. When Curt Lemon dies, Rat Kiley extremely murders an innocent baby buffalo. He takes his automated rifle and shoots up the animal, as a method of handling his heavy sorrow. All of them “stood there viewing, feeling all of kinds of things, however there wasn’t a great deal of pity for the baby buffalo” (75 ). This is the sort of reaction that individuals, especially guys, have been revealed to turn to when they are unable to reveal their “softer” feelings in a healthy way. They turn to manage and violence instead, simply as the entire army burned a town down after Ted Lavender was shot. This is a result not of guys’s natural dispositions, but of the forced and harmful rules of masculinity that they all feel as though they are bound to follow.

This standard procedure is not imaginary, and something that is expressed several times throughout the book. More disturbing, maybe, than the gruesome but expected details of gore and death is when Tim O’Brien states clearly that” [the squad] brought a soldier’s biggest fear, which was the worry of blushing.” More than the disaster of a grenade, more than scary of a P.O.W camp, more than death itself, a soldier apparently fears embarrassment above all else. Even if it allows you to go home, even if conserves an innocent life, even if it’s the distinction in between sobbing in the barracks and hanging yourself in your parents’ basement, the humiliation of showing your misery and your sadness is without a doubt the worst thing you can experience in a war. This is not, as it could appear, a testament to human strength and self-discipline, however to the absurd and unreasonable damage that this inhuman “masculinity” does to a soldier’s psyche. Having worries and phobias and apprehensions as simply as human as bravery and self-control, but the soldiers desert this consideration on the battleground.

When a dental professional pertains to deal with the teeth of the soldiers, Curt Lemon goes into a near panic attack because of his stunted capability to deal with his anxiety and fears about the dental practitioner, finally fainting prior to the dental practitioner can even touch him. The embarrassment of this program of worry and anxiety, gotten out of anyone, goes farther than simply making for an amusing war story later on. In fact, this embarrassment” [turns] a screw in his head” (84 ), and causes Curt Lemon to experience a psychosomatic, agonizing toothache. His teeth were fine, but his mind could just equate the shame of his show of weakness into a relentless, “killer” toothache, into a real pain, one that appeared to give him another possibility to reveal his strength and capability. He snuck down to the dental expert’s test that night and insisted that the dental professional find a solution for it. Though the dental expert found nothing incorrect, he proceeded to tug out the tooth at Curt Lemon’s command. It was a perfectly excellent tooth, but Curt Lemon provided it up so he might metaphorically win back his masculinity. The results of this unhealthy way of believing are enduring, and stay with these soldiers long after the war has ended.

The patriarchal code of guys leaves these soldiers mentally handicapped, and the trauma that inevitably follows them house is never handled properly. Norman Bowker, who hung himself a few years after he returned home, is example of this. In “Speaking of Nerve”, he envisions a conversation with his daddy, and with other people in his drowsy little town, in which he informs the story about how he “almost won the Silver Star” (135 ), a medal for uncommon bravery. He had apparently been responsible for the death of soldier Kiowa, who drowned in a muck field (filled with human waste) during a night attack, and in this way he had lost the Silver Star. The repetition of the Silver Star’s reference reveals a fixation on damaged expectations, and a failure to handle the heavy weight of regret, grief and anxiety he deals with after the war. He can not believe to himself, can not get past the circles his mind enters, simply as he drives around and around and around the lake in his town as he believes. His poisonous idea process is a result of his stunted emotional capability, feeding his injury and anxiety. The expectations placed on him by the war and by the platoon’s “masculine” code were beyond the majority of human capability; he had actually been “braver than he ever believed possible, but … had actually not been so brave as he wished to be” (147 ). He can decline the details of his past, however unlike Rat Kiley or Curt Lemon, he feels he has no chance to redeem himself. The war is over, and his friends are gone, and he lives with his daddy.

Throughout the war, none of O’Brien’s soldiers were ever enabled to be less than impenetrable, and when they were reminded that they were, by death or catastrophe or personal failings, they lashed out, because snapping was the only psychological expression that was enabled. Maybe it was the only psychological expression that the war motivated, however one can not be so removed from humankind forever. Rat Kiley was advised of death, of sorrow, and could just translate his discomfort through violence to another innocent life trapped in a war. Tim O’Brien stared at the body of the man he had killed and recognized that he could joke till he too died, but absolutely nothing they can say and absolutely nothing they could ever state would make the male in front of him, with the star-shaped eye, less dead. His recurring and compulsive thoughts are echoed in Norman Bowker, trapped at home and not at war, without a Silver Star, without his good friend Kiowa, and without a final opportunity to prove himself. None of these males could ever be called weak, and none of them could be called ideal. But the imposing masculine rules that have always governed patriarchal society left no space for the “dreadful softness” of feeling, though innate in all human beings. It left no room for the gray area in between weak and strong, in between hero and bad guy. It definitely left no room for the correct or healthy way of emotional expression, and permanently corrupted the psyche of each guy, left a psychological injury that they inflicted on each other, and left that wound without good factor.

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