The Things They Carried

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The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried is a vibrant collection of short stories pertaining to the life in military, composed by American novelist, Tim O’Brien. The stories mainly focus on a platoon of soldiers from America who were fighting on the ground in the Vietnam War. The book is about war and describes the experiences of the 23rd Infantry Division when serving in the Asian state. The writer tries to refrain from politics and, therefore, makes a deliberate attempt to remain apolitical (O’Brien 21). Most of the characters and in his book bear noticeable similarities with some of his other books, such as Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, and If I Die in a Combat Zone, which goes further to show that the events in the book were in one way or other inspired by real historical occurrences as they are in fact memories from his real life scenarios.

In Things They Carried, the writer uses different types of advanced writing styles, such as metafiction and Verisimilitude. He uses real place names and even includes himself in the play as the protagonist, a framework that begs the question whether the book is a fiction or non-fiction. It is being said that the primary motivation for writing the book was to demystify misconceptions that people had on the issue pertaining to American soldiers and the wars that they engaged in outside their country.

In the first story, the reader is introduced to Jimmy Cross who is the leader of the group of soldiers who went to war in Vietnam. Everything on the front goes on well until the time when one of the members of his troop dies, leaving Jimmy Cross to be disappointed by himself and throwing all the reminders that he had of Martha so that he could avoid a dangerous distraction. This part, just like many others, tends to focus on the ignorance that people have about how soldiers are regarded and accommodated in the military. It has long been thought that soldiers are not respected and are only used as tools to carry on a greater agenda, and that their bosses do not care whether they die or not. However, this story shows the kind of emotion that goes on when one of the members in the military die. The lieutenant is devastated and decides to destroy all the things that reminded him of a lady called Martha to block the re-occurrence of such an incidence.

In his next tale, “On the Rainy River”, O’Brien narrates circumstances surrounding his enlistment as a soldier immediately after he completed his graduation. Initially, he is nervous and extremely reluctant about going to war and even considers fleeing the army. Soon, he begins his travel to the border of Canada and U.S, where he encounters an elderly man who allows him to work through his struggles that prevent him from joining the army. Through this encounter, O’Brien is given an opportunity to escape, though he ends up succumbing to the societal pressure which compels him not to escape as he had planned. O’Brien uses this story to show the kind of challenges that some of the soldiers go through before accepting their combat roles in the military. Initially, it might be thought to be a lucrative venture, thinking about the attractive perks given to the military soldiers. However, the notion that one puts his life at bay is scary as one might lose his life in the war. Therefore, one goes through a period of soul searching to prepare himself for the role.

Another story involves a situation where the platoon comes across a building which initially used to be a church and finds that it is inhabited by monks. Soon afterwards, monks indulge in a talk with soldiers about their relationship with the church and religion in a specter that captivates soldiers in a wave of appreciation for the benign relationship and the role that the clergy plays in building peace. The soldiers show their good side by supplying food and other necessities to the monks as a reward for their participation in peace building. This kind of gesture also paints the true picture of the military at large and even the individual soldiers. While they are always thought as people who are out there to cause war, the solders here are depicted as people who actually want war to end (O’Brien 54). Therefore, they provide reward to all those who encourage and support the attempts to bring peace among communities. The writer brings out a picture of soldiers that shows their human side as opposed to the side where they are considered to be inhuman war machines. O’Brien also tends to show that soldiers are not out there to kill as the thought of killing is not a pleasant one for most of them. In one of his encounters, he admits that it was not pleasant and that it is something that he did not want anyone to undergo.

Critical Analysis

O’Brien through his writing passes vital lessons to the audience that may help people and the nation to change their perception towards the military. The story urges its readers not to consider military personnel as people without emotions because the workers in this category as just human like every other person. The lesson may guide the government not to consider the officers as tools they can use fight fierce wars without considering their lives. The analysis of the story further shows how the officers are patriotic towards their country which even forces them to engage in international wars where they could lose their lives. It emerges from the analysis that the officers do not kill as if they love it but as a way of protecting the nation and responding to the call to serve. The story, therefore, serves a critical role in changing the bad perception people have about military officers by depicting them as being loyal and defensive.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Thorndike Press, 2017.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: In the Lake of the Woods : 2 Works. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.



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