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The Things They Carried: A Close Look at the Vietnam War Essay


“The Things They Brought” is a narrative composed in 1986, which is later included in a collection of short stories of the exact same name. They hold true stories about the experiences of the author, Tim O’Brien, and his fellow American soldiers during the Vietnam War (Blyn 189). Through the distinct format, humanity in the middle of the ravages of war is explored. The first story, “The Things They Carried” does not only focus on the physical things that the soldiers carry, however likewise on feelings and inspirations that they bring in their lives, especially in their lives as soldiers during war.

The narrative recommends that the only time that they will not be carrying anything is when they are dead.

“By utilizing the simplicity of a list and trying to classify easy products the soldiers carried, O’Brien exposes the genuine fear of the war itself. And the classifications go from the concrete– foot powder, pictures, chewing gum– to the intangible.

They brought disease; memory. When it rained, they carried the sky.” (Mason 829)

“The Important Things They Carried” is a narrative with an ingenious plot circulation. Rather of continuing like numerous war stories or any narrative for that matter, it conscientiously explains a number of the things that the soldiers carry. It is nearly like an exposition of what soldiers require to bring for each of their different missions. This is similar to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. “The memorial is just a list of names” but the “power remains in the simplicity of presentation and in what lies behind each of those names” (Mason 829).

The story does have two main plot, one that takes place internally in Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’ mind and the other, which is a major loss that the whole group experiences. Jimmy daydreams about Martha’s love and resides in the warm convenience of the illusion while in the middle of the severe reality of war. Nevertheless, he needs to choose between indulging in his fantasy and dealing with the truth of leading his men into fight. A major occasion that helps Cross choose is the death of Ted Lavender, one of his fellow American soldiers.

The story starts with Cross daydreaming about Martha. He is obsessed with the junior from Mount Sebastian College. He keeps her letters, imagining them to be “love letters.” His creativity adds romantic conferences that have never ever occurred, and he “tastes envelope flaps understanding her tongue had been there,” while questioning if Martha were still a “virgin.” (O’Brien 605)

Her letters and his love for her are some of the important things that Cross brings with him. The narrative continues to explain the other soldiers’ concerns. They are said to bring “peculiar little chances and ends,” with various purposes: for silence, as night sight aid, back up weapons and even security blankets, like the “panty pipe twisted around” Henry Dobbins’ neck, which is his girlfriend’s. “They all carried ghosts” (O’Brien 610).

“Lieutenant Cross looked at the tunnel. However he was not there. He was buried with Martha under the white sand at the Jersey coast. They were compressed, and the pebble in his mouth was her tongue. He was smiling … He was simply a kid at war, in love. He was twenty two years of ages. He could not help it” (O’Brien 611).

Cross just wishes for a normal life. As a twenty 2 year old, he dreams of romance, and the life that Martha lives in college. Thinking of her while at war supplies a diversion that appears required to his peace of mind; the daydreams cushion the full impact of the situation that he remains in. Instead of facing war with all of his senses, he leaves his heart and mind with Martha; he for that reason carries Martha with him. The other soldiers have their own comforts that help them make it through physically and psychologically. The extra weapons that they bring are not just there for physical protection, however likewise for assurance.

Even Ted Lavender has as soon as welcomed the comfort brought by the things that he carries: “Ted Lavender, who was scared, brought tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the town of Than Khe in mid-April” and “Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a need”.(O’Brien 606) Lavender has become dependent on a drug that either offers him enough courage to go into battle or that dulls his senses. He brings more than the physical burdens that weigh down his body; his fears have robbed him of sleep, so tranquilizers have ended up being a necessity.

“However Ted Lavender, who was terrified, carried thirty-four rounds when he was shot and eliminated outside Than Khe, and he decreased under an exceptional concern, more than twenty pounds of ammunition, plus the flak coat and helmet and provisions and water and toilet tissue and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighed worry” (O’Brien 608).

The above estimated paragraph, together with the two other quotations on Lavender, symbolizes the lots of concerns that weigh down each of the soldiers. The escape that Cross attains whenever he thinks about Martha is justified by the severe effects of the horrors of war on the other soldiers. Fear is one of the most, if not the most, major concerns that they share.

Nevertheless, they can not leave this specific burden due to the fact that as American soldiers, they are expected by their fellow Americans to keep their courage and defend their country’s beliefs. They are expected to be hard, with their greatest fear as blushing. What can make a soldier blush is the shame brought on by the dishonor of being called as a coward. The expectation is an extra burden that makes them continue (O’Brien 616).

What can likewise be observed in the circumstances that Ted Lavender has been mentioned is not only the emphasis on the things he utilized to bring however also on the focus that he has been shot and killed. In each of the instances, the things that he used to bring are described as things that he carries before he is shot and killed.

This resembles what goes on inside Lieutenant Cross; he tries to leave the full blast of reality of war by thinking about Martha, but reality has a method of bringing him back to face it. The reader is offered a list of things the soldiers reach reduce their burdens that do not have physical weights, then he or she is constantly advised of the violence of war through the death of Lavender.

“He was now identified to perform his responsibilities strongly and without carelessness. It would not assist Lavender … but from this point on he would comport himself as a soldier. He would dispose of his good-luck pebble … On the march he would enforce rigorous field discipline … He would insist on tidy weapons. He would confiscate the remainder of Lavender’s dope … he would call the males together and talk to them clearly. He would accept the blame for what had actually happened to Ted Lavender … they would no longer abandon equipment along the route of march” (O’Brien 618).

In the end, Cross selects reality over Martha. He understands that there are numerous obligations attached to his position as a soldier. It is something that can not be done half-heartedly without effects. He “modifications from a romantic youth to a male of action and responsibility” and “is carried forward by his decision not to be caught unprepared again” since he comprehends the situation for what it is: “a life and death circumstance” (Mason 830).

” The Important Things They Brought” does not have a normal treatment of a plot. Like the rest of the war stories by Tim O’Brien, it intends to depict as properly as possible the true experiences of soldiers throughout the Vietnam War while trying not to accommodate the expectations of “upliftment” at the end of the story. Though the soldiers each have their own “deflective strategies for handling pain” they eventually have to assert themselves and take control (Mason 830).

Works Cited

Blyn, Robin. “O’Brien’s The Things They Brought.” The Explicator (2003 ): 189-191.

Mason, Bobbie Ann. “On Tim O Brien’s The important things They Brought.” The Story and Its

Author : An Intro to Short Fiction. Massachusetts: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.


O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Brought. “The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to

Brief Fiction. Massachusetts: Bedford/St. Martin’s 1999. 605-618.

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