The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien wrote about the feelings and experiences of young soldiers in the Vietnam War. Here also describes the physical and vague bits and pieces that the soldiers carry around while at war in Vietnam. Their loved ones linger on in their minds and hearts as they trod around with various material items such as ammunition, mosquito nets, comic books, bibles, comic books and drugs such as marijuana. The physical solid items paint the picture of  their physical and mental states while in Vietnam. Their non physical emotions show where their hearts and souls lie in the midst of all this turmoil. The heavy items they carry around take a great toll on their physicality and weighs down on them and their endurance levels crash to record lows, which makes their experience very complex and difficult. Descriptive unemotional adjectives are employed by O’Brien to describe the material items with simple, un-emotional, descriptive adjectives such as the weight of specific items to the ounce.
The intangible items though burdensome cannot be discarded since they are inborn unlike the tangibles. Just like the tangibles, they are a source of pain and here the author uses character description and stylized script to highlight the importance of a man’s emotions. Also used are simple imageries of the physical pains and detailed descriptions of the emotional pains to give the reader insight into war and to create a clear rational picture for the reader.

The reader is drawn closer to this characters feels by looking at all the things they moved around with while in Vietnam. These items speak for themselves. An example is the way he makes us really feel for Lieutenant Jimmy Cross because he bears responsibility for the lives of all these men in his hands and at the same time carries letters and photos of his beloved Martha in order to let the reader understand his longing and undying love for her. As we turn our heads towards the psychological approach. The things they carried were a representation of the character’s inner conflicts. O Brian introduces use to all of the intangible things they carried. For example “The intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they all had tangible weight” (O’Brien, 2010). As they carried a baggage of war, they also carried a baggage of their emotions, secrets reputations, and fears. The weight of the objects, mentioned repeatedly the entire piece becomes a symbol of all the things they went through in their march. For example, they have to deal with the burden they have killed people and they cannot take it back.

In chapter twelve titled the man I killed; O’Brien is absorbed visibly by the sight of his victim, imagining the soldier to be a Vietnamese version of himself. He describes his own self, emotions, his past life as he wanted to be a scholar but had heard tales from relatives and friends about war and not wanting to shame his family and community he had gone on to enroll to the military service. He is clearly fixated on the dead Vietnamese soldier and is partly guilty over taking the life of another man; but is also disgusted over a war that causes young men to kill one another for causes that neither party understands.

In chapter two, titled love, despite his never-ending affection to Martha, when they meet up again Cross finally realizes that there is an immense gulf between them. After college Martha spent her time doing volunteer service, and Cross had spent his killing people in Vietnam. She cannot comprehend Cross as she is out rightly horrified by his past doings while at war. Cross’s past  experiences as a veteran continue to detach him from dear ones long after he is back from the war. Repeatedly in literature, authors use specific items to further the understanding of the key characters. Those are the literary strategies O’Brien uses to portray this specific emotional effect..



O’Brien, T. (2010). The Things They Carried. Logan, IA: Perfection Learning Corporation.

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