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The Things They Carried Essay

1000 words - 4 pages

"The Things They Carried," is a fiction story-telling book about the Vietnam War by Tim O'Brien that describes the physical and emotional burdens the men carry not only during their time in Vietnam but also years after leaving the warfront. The book is a series of stories told with O'Brien as the main narrator. O'Brien tells of the journey he takes alongside his unit, revealing his fight for courage and decision to commit to the serving in the war. It is a groundbreaking meditation on war, memory, imagination and the redemptive power of storytelling.

O'Brien describes the variety of encounters him and the Alpha Company experience while in Vietnam. O'Brien also describes the various items his fellow soldiers carried. Most of these things are physical items such as pocket-knives, dog tags and matches. Other things the men carried are burdens of emotional fear and guilt. O'Brien's many descriptions of what is carried on these men's backs makes the reader feel the weight of what these men were fighting for. This powerful writing also makes the reader feel as though they too are walking next to the Alpha Company in the battle field.

The "things" each man carries are literal and figurative. The physical load each man carries oversees the emotional load. Henry Dobbins carries items belonging to his girlfriend which symbolizes his desire for comfort and affection. Jimmy Cross also carries the emotional burden of desire seen from the letters from Martha, a college love, who it seems will never give the love and affection Cross desires. O'Brien touches on the burdens carried after the war in "Love" and "Notes." Survivors of the war may hold the gift of seeing the sun shine every day but are also reminded everyday of the grief and confusion from their time in Vietnam.
O'Brien's story “On the Rainy River,” explains his personal battle about his decision to fight in the war after receiving his draft notice. He feels the war is unjust but does not want to seem weak to his peers. Instead of fleeing to Canada because of his own beliefs, O'Brien decides to join the war effort because he is does not want his family to be ashamed and see him as a coward. The theme of social pressure to be seen as a strong, brave man is seen throughout the book. Each individual man feels this pressure, which affects the relationships each man has with each other. They are concerned about their social acceptance even though the uncertainty of death is so near. Jimmy Cross, who has gone to war only because his friends have, becomes a confused and uncertain leader who endangers the lives of his soldiers. O’Brien uses these characters to show that fear of shame is a misguided but unavoidable motivation for going to war. O’Brien’s personal experience shows that the fear of being shamed before one’s peers is a powerful motivating factor...

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