Analysis Of The Things They Carried

1246 words - 5 pages

Usually when someone is murdered, people expect the murderer to feel culpable. This though, is not the case in war. When in war, a soldier is taught that the enemy deserves to die, for no other reason than that they are the nation’s enemy. When Tim O’Brien kills a man during the Vietnam War, he is shocked that the man is not the buff, wicked, and terrifying enemy he was expecting. This realization overwhelms him in guilt. O’Brien’s guilt has him so fixated on the life of his victim that his own presence in the story—as protagonist and narrator—fades to the black. Since he doesn’t use the first person to explain his guilt and confusion, he negotiates his feelings by operating in fantasy—by imagining an entire life for his victim, from his boyhood and his family to his feeling about the war and about the Americans. In The Man I Killed, Tim O’Brien explores the truth of The Vietnam War by vividly describing the dead body and the imagined life of the man he has killed to question the morality of killing in a war that seems to have no point to him.
The detailed descriptions of the dead man’s body show the terrible costs of the war in a physical aspect. O’Brien’s guilt almost takes on its own rhythm in the repetition of ideas, phrases, and observations about the man’s body. Some of the ideas here, especially the notion of the victim being a “slim, young, dainty man,” help emphasize O’Brien’s fixation on the effects of his action—that he killed someone who was innocent and not meant to be fighting in the war. At the same time, his focus on these physical characteristics, rather than on his own feelings, betrays his attempt to keep some distance in order to dull the pain. The long, unending sentences force the reader to read the details in one breath, just as O’Brien took it in. These continuous descriptions reveal not only the physical damage of the man he killed but also the damage to it did to O’Brien psychologically. He is trying to organize everything together—to make sense of it, but he loses control. Just like O’Brien the reader can’t escape his stream of consciousness. The repetition wears the reader out, and even becomes a burden as if the reader reliving the murder of the man with O’Brien. His repeated descriptions of the man’s missing eye as a “star-shaped hole” accentuates the cost of honor and the question of its worth. Usually when someone has done something honorable they know it and accept it as is. However in this case O’Brien feels that the cost of earning the honor is too great to be justified even if everyone believes he did the right thing. O’Brien illustrates the uncertainty of the war in Vietnam by alternating clear references of beauty and gore. The butterfly and the “small blue flowers shaped like bells” he mentions show the stark ugliness and abruptness of death in the midst of a perfect and ordinary occurrence. O’Brien’s horrific observations of his victim lying on the side of the road with “his jaw in his throat and his...

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