In “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien brings to light the effects of war on soldiers, both physically and psychologically. The title of the story would lead the reader to believe the story is only about the provisions and apparatus a soldier would physically carry into war. After reading the entire story, it becomes evident that there are many burdens seen and unseen that soldiers face during times of war.
In this story, O’Brien uses motif by describing the items the soldiers physically carry while at war which embody the soldier’s state of mind. One example of a motif is at the beginning of the story when First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is introduced. The author describes the letters Jimmy carries around with him from a girl named Martha “They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic, at the bottom of his rucksack”(O’Brien 114). These letters are indicative that Cross does not feel the kind of love from Martha that he feels for her.
O’Brien employs symbolism as a literary device in the story which he uses to describe the items Ted Lavender is carrying with him. Lavender carries tranquilizers which represent the torment and anxiety he has due to being involved in the war. O’Brien tells the reader “Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity” (O’Brien 114). The fact that Ted Lavender carries drugs with him demonstrates his need to escape the reality of war. Symbolism is also present as Kiowa, a Native American soldier, is introduced. The first item carried by Kiowa is a symbol of his faith and religion, “Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma” (O’Brien 114). In addition to the Bible, Kiowa “carried a pair of moccasins for silence” (O’Brien 117). The moccasins are a symbol of his Native American heritage. Jimmy carried more than the majority of his men “As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45 caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded” (O’Brien 115). These items represent the accountability Jimmy felt for his men. O’Brien addresses the weight of the items the soldiers carry in their packs which can be symbolic of the burdens each carries with him emotionally and psychologically.
O’Brien’s choice of Ted Lavender’s last name is an excellent use of irony in the story. Lavender is a small plant with delicate flowers that can be used to produce a soothing effect “With its antidepressant and sedative qualities, lavender can help to lift depression, ease stress and anxiety, and is useful in overcoming headaches, migraine, and insomnia. The nervine in it is a tonic for nervous disorders” (Waring 11). This...