The Elusiveness of War and the Tenuousness of Morality in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” “How to Tell a True War Story,” and “Style”
In the novel The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien demonstrates how exposure to the atrocities of nations at war leads to the soldiers having skewed perspectives on what is right and wrong, predominantly at times when the purpose of the war itself appears elusive. The ambiguity that consumes the stories of “The Things They Carried” and “How to Tell a True War Story” is displayed with irony, for the ‘moral’ of such war stories is that there is no moral at all. O’Brien portrays the character Mitchell Sanders as an observer who seeks the morals to be found through the war fatalities; however, he depicts these morals in a manner that actually stresses the impiety of the situations above all else. The characters in this novel are at the forefront of the Vietnam War, thus blinded by carnage that soon begins to obscure any prior notions held about what is moralistic and what is not.
The death of Ted Lavender in “The Things They Carried” leads to Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’ moral blunder which is brought about by his guilt over the horror of the incident:
Lieutenant Cross felt the pain. He blamed himself […] He pictured Martha’s smooth young face […] and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her. When the dustoff arrived, they carried Lavender aboard. Afterward they burned Than Khe. (6-7)
Cross deals with his ignorance as a leader by burning down an entire village, which is noticeably a result of the distorted boundary between moral and immoral actions caused by this war. Lavender’s death also reaches a point of irony when Sanders claims that the moral to the situation is in fact the immorality of it, saying “The moral’s pretty obvious. Stay away from drugs. No joke, they’ll...