The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
“The Things They Carried” was a story about soldiers caught in the confusion of the Vietnam War. There are a lot of apparent themes that are dealt with when writing a story about war, especially about death. I enjoyed reading this story; however there were some things about it that I was concerned about. I would like to discuss the author’s style of writing, his meaning of the title “The Things They Carried” and the way the author and his characters deal with death. This story was written with a variety of styles, and it was in a non-traditional format. The main style seems to be a third person, limited omniscient story. However, this story also includes elements of flashback. In a traditional flashback however, the character having the flashback usually is telling the story, the flashback or past events is told only once, and then we view the character or characters revelations afterwards. This story breaks all of the rules of the traditional flashback. In the story, a comrade dies, Ted Lavender. The event of his death is retold 4 or 5 times within the story, from all different angles. For some readers who read this for the first time, especially myself, this was very confusing. It’s almost as if the story is being told as a movie, where we are supposed to have some visual reference as to where we are in the story.
Another element that was confusing is that if the reader has no knowledge of famous or foreign wars, the reader would not know that this is set in the Vietnam War. The word Vietnam is not mentioned until later on in the story. This story could have easily been set in WWII, since this war did deal with some of the Far East countries. The story did have a ‘modern’ feel to it, so I believed that it was the Vietnam War. Finally, the author used vulgar words in the story. I believe that you take a serious risk when you write literature with swear words, because then you separate most of your audience. Either your audience is liberal and understands the use of the words, or your audience is conservative, and they are offended and don’t finish reading. However, I also believe that the words are put in not for the vulgarity, but for an authentication of what was going on in the war. They were not used in every dialogue, or every sentence, but in places where you might “normally” hear them.
All of these different elements together provided for a very dynamic story. I did pick up on the central themes in the story. One thing that was apparent was Lt. Jimmy Cross, and his use of his “girlfriend” Martha to deal with the war. Another is the death of one comrade, Ted Lavender, and how it affected the soldiers. And then there is the title, “The Things They Carried”, in which the author takes time to emphasize throughout the story. I felt that author also tried to mislead readers by the title, because the story is really not about the ‘Things”. In the story there are large passages in which the...