Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” is a very character driven story. The author essentially uses the characters to tell the story. Each of the characters are unique in their own way, however they also share certain similarities, which no doubt spring up from the awful situation that they have been put in. All of the soldiers in the short story are very young and have their own unique way of coping with the trauma associated with being at war. The soldiers in "The Things They Carried" use drugs, fantasy and memories as coping mechanisms to escape the everyday horrors of the war while retaining their sanity, but must ultimately give up their fantasies and accept the situation they are in.
As First Lieutenant, Jimmy Cross is the highest ranking member in the short story, thus the other characters look to him to lead them. However, he is just as messed up as the rest of the soldiers are he just does not show it because the soldiers need someone to look up to. When listing Lt. Cross’s personal effects O’Brien deliberately includes “a responsibility for the lives of his men,” (O’Brien 271) and although responsibility is not tangible it does weigh him down. Jimmy deals with the war by fantasizing about a girl back home as much as he can. Try as he might, he cannot push the thoughts about Martha out of his mind and concentrate on the war. Sometimes the thoughts come unbidden and he find himself “suddenly, without willing it, … thinking about Martha” (274). Whenever a member of his platoons is killed, he blames himself for his distracted state. While marching down the trail he sucks on a pebble that Martha sent him and thinks about the New Jersey shore instead of looking for signs of ambush. He didn't want to be in charge and doesn't feel up to the task. After all “He was just a kid at war” (274). He is representative of the young officers that fought the war in Vietnam, brave boys who did the best they could despite their youth and inexperience. The platoon realizes his leadership is flawed, but most respect him after seeing the toll Ted Lavender’s death takes on him and how much he cares about his fellow soldiers.
Jimmy Cross is not the only character in this narrative with a girl back home. He is however, the only one obsessed with a girl back home that does not appear to share his feelings. Unlike Cross, Henry Dobbins’s girl back home appears to have reciprocated his feelings toward her. Otherwise the fact that he carries her pantyhose among his personal belongings becomes slightly disturbing. When the troop has an ambush mission “Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose wrapped around his neck as a comforter” (273) the pantyhose make him feel safe, so on particularly dangerous missions he wears it almost as armor.
Ted Lavender had perhaps the most effective...