“The Things They Carried” displays men in the heart of war trying maintain some sort of semblance of their regular lives. The main character of the story, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, invests a good deal of his time thinking about his love interest back in the house. In fact, the story opens by saying that he “brought letters from a woman called Martha … They were not enjoy letters, however Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack” (PAGE #).
Instantly the reader is thrust into this world of war, and what is necessary to the guys who live it. There are numerous various clichés/ phrases concerning how one can inform a lot about a man by X or Y (by the way he gowns, by the way he treats his mother, etc.); in this story, we can inform whatever at the heart of a guy by what he brings with him travelling through the jungles of Vietnam.
Jimmy Cross is a dreamer; he invests his time daydreaming about developing a life with a female who hasn’t actually revealed the same sort of interest in him, and who preserves a lot of emotional range from him. However it is this idea of a “normal” life, a life in which he can concentrate on marital relationship and children and just life, a life he wishes to return to after the war. The idea of Martha, along with her letters, acts as a beacon of normalcy for him, and it is what he feels he needs to hold on to for his own survival.
Jimmy eventually ends up shunning his own need of preserving some sort of focus on life beyond the war since he feels his own incessant fantasizing was the cause of another soldier’s death; in an excellent symbolic gesture, he burns her letters and her photos, turning his back on any hope he holds on to of a typical life and vowing to be the solider he stopped working to be: “Henceforth, when he thought of Martha, it would just be to think that she belonged somewhere else. He would close down the visions.
This was not Mount Sebastian, it was another world … a place where males passed away due to the fact that of negligence and gross stupidity … He was not figured out to perform his tasks strongly and without negligence” (PAGE #). Jimmy is so shaken by the experience of witnessing among his guys’s death that it requires him to become a different individual– in a sense, to adjust, and to become difficult and cold. As much as his fantasizing was for his own survival before, his solidified personality after the death of Ted Lavender is as well.
Making use of Ted Lavender’s name and story is the dominant theme throughout the story. O’Brien utilizes Lavender’s awful death as a continuous suggestion of the horrors of war. Throughout the entire story, in the middle of what may seem to be a casual description of different products being “humped” by the males, O’Brien drops Lavender’s name connected to a suggestion of how he was shot. This occurs towards the start, when the storyteller is describing the different things the males brought: “Ted Lavender, who was terrified, brought tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the town of Than Khe in mid-April” (PAGE #).
His name is raised consistently throughout with this exact same sort of cryptic suggestion of his death. When describing how everyone had to carry a poncho, it is noted that it “weighed practically 2 pounds, however it deserved every ounce. In April, for example, when Ted Lavender was shot, they used his poncho to cover him up …” (PAGE #).
This name-dropping of Ted Lavender throughout the story is a reliable tool that O’Brien utilizes the highlight the point that this man passed away. The deeper-lying message behind making use of Lavender’s demise as a running metaphor is that people pass away in war; it is terrifying; these guys are children (with the Lieutenant being a simple 22 years old) and they’re afraid and they want to go house, and these things they bring they keep since it makes them feel safe and advises them a little of house.
There is emphasis in the story about how their consistent marching and their humping of limitless items from village to town seemed pointless to them– as pointless as Ted Lavender’s life ending. “By daytime they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, however it was not battle, it was simply the limitless march, town to town, without purpose, nothing won or lost … They had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched villages without knowing what to search for …” (PAGE #).
These men, who have to hump a terrific lots of variety of items (of both the individual and the protective nature) from one location to the beside the next, are being shipped off to war without a clear sense of what it is they’re doing there and are sacrificing their lives without really comprehending what their lives are being sacrificed for.
They do what they are told because they are told to do it, and because they are too afraid not to: “Men eliminated, and died, because they were humiliated not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the very first place, absolutely nothing positive, no imagine glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to pass away of embarrassment” (PAGE #). These boys were dying for little other factor that they knew of besides that they felt that they had to.
O’Brien’s message throughout this story is clear: war is frightening. O’Brien utilizes the lists of what they needed to bring with them to highlight the heavy concern each of them needed to hump around all over they went, with the underlying theme that the important things they brought physically were nothing in contrast to the things they each brought around with them emotionally.
All of them were scared for their lives; all of them wanted to go house. Much of their individual possessions were things that would advise them of house, that would possibly enable them to leave for short moments (like Jimmy Cross did with Martha’s letters) and fantasize about the lives they might and did have outside of this war, advising them that there is still another world outside of Vietnam. Many of the guys carried with them the hope of a safe return; a lot more brought with them the fear that there wouldn’t be one for them.
O’Brien is really careful to allow these characters’ lives (and one death) promote themselves. He utilizes their example of their experience in war to promote a higher number of boys throughout the nation who had actually been delivered off to Vietnam to die without comprehending why. Part of O’Brien’s message is that these experiences– the hopes, the fears, the daily terror and the battle to fight it– are universal, and can widely be used to anyone who has actually been through war. The bottom line is that war is hell, it is frightening, and no amount of pride or splendor can alter that, and whether or not the war was being fought for the “right” factors (a big dispute throughout the Vietnam conflict) couldn’t alter that either.
O’Brien is largely worried about the pointlessness of all of it, and he is successful in making his point efficiently by using these extremely poignant lists of things the guys carried and for what reasons to hammer his point home. He has the ability to do so without being preachy or pedantic; the story is so basic that the message ends up being just as easy. Whether you support war, you can not reject that the guys battling it are forced to live through things that the rest people would rather not understand about. We would rather stay in our self-deluded bubble in which we comprehend war just as far as its being for liberty, for honor, for the greater good … we would rather be spared the understanding of the blood loss and the body counts. Not to discuss the terror. We would rather not hear the story of the Ted Lavenders, however O’Brien insists that we have to.
O’Brien, Tim. “The Important Things They Brought.” ( 1986) [NAME OF ANTHOLOGY.] Ed. [NAME OF EDITOR(S) OF ANTHOLOGY.] (DATE OF ANTHOLOGY’S PUBLICATION.)