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The Things They Carried By Tim O'brien

1826 words - 7 pages

The War at Home
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, transports the reader into the minds of veterans of the Vietnam conflict. The Vietnam War dramatically changed Tim O’Brien and his comrades, making their return home a turbulent and difficult transition. The study, titled, The War at Home: Effects of Vietnam-Era Military Service on Post-War Household Stability, uses the draft lottery as a “natural experiment” on the general male population. The purpose of the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) study is to determine the psychological effects of the Vietnam War on its veterans. In order to do this, they tested four conditions, marital stability, residential stability, housing tenure, and extended family living. However, it neglects the internal ramifications of war that a soldier grapples with in determining whether they are “normal” in their post-war lives. Thus, effects such as alienation from society, insecurity in their daily lives, and the mental trauma that persist decades after the war are not factored in. After reading the NBER study, it is evident that Tim O’Brien intentionally draws the reader to the post-war psychological effects of Vietnam that may not manifest themselves externally. He does this to highlight that while the Vietnam war is over, the war is still raging in the minds of those involved decades later, and will not dissipate until they can expunge themselves of the guilt and blame they feel from the war, and their actions or inaction therein.
Norman Bawker’s experience in the war in Vietnam is one that renders him completely helpless afterward. During his campaign, he was a good, quiet soldier, who won seven medals, but he would never forgive himself for the one he didn’t win, the Silver Star. Hunkered down in a firefight, Norman was unable to save the wounded Kiowa as he sank into the shit field. Norman, a strong guy, could not save him not for lack of strength, but instead because of complete chaos around him, and “the worst part […] the smell” (O’Brien, 139). After the firefight was over, guilt set into Norman that would never leave. He blamed himself for Kiowa’s death, and it riddled him with self-doubt. After the war, he is completely unable to tell anyone about the incident, and the medal he should’ve won, “he wished he could have explained some of this. How he had been braver than he ever thought possible, but how he had not been so brave as he wanted to be” (O’Brien, 126). His feeling of inadequacy is based on this singular incident, and is something unable to be represented in the NBER study. After the war, Norman lived in the same town he has always lived in, yet he felt like a stranger: “the town could not, and would not listen. […] It had no memory, therefore no guilt” (O’Brien, 137). Norman feels alienated from society, wracked with guilt for a situation beyond his control, he finds his only solace is in the taking of his life. Tim O’Brien uses the suicide of Norman Bawker to represent the...

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