Tim O'Brien: Analysis of The Things They Carried

Published: 2021-08-02
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Wesleyan University
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The author Tim OBrien was a Vietnam War veteran and took on the novel to explain who soldiers during the war coped with the tormenting experiences on the battlefield. He provides short biographies of his fellow soldier and the things they carried to distract them from the realities of the war (OGorman 300). After the war, he used to meditate about their characters to help illuminate the meaning of the war. For instance, Henry Dobbin who carried extra rations of canned peaches and cake.

The soldiers were confronted with daily cases of deaths from the war casualties. Processing this information was hard as O'Brien, and fellow soldiers understood that they might be next in that line. To avoid being mentally impaired most of the soldiers carried things they valued to distract themselves from the realities of war. The author had developed his strategy for dealing with emotional issues by telling the stories of the diseased to make them alive and the situation less real. This activity was a form of psychotherapy technic that turned the fallen soldiers into items rather persons by telling their stories and writing about it (Loeb 7). This skill was vital for soldiers in the war zone to attain mental stability to keep them fighting while avoiding death themselves. O'Brien indicated that the soliders were required to consider the dead as objects and people which will create a detachment and hence feel nothing when they came face to face with a corpse which was a regular occurrence. For instance, the soldier saw a Vietnamese boy who had been a victim of bombing and the soldiers said that it was a roasted peanut (O'Brien 5). The intention of making the dead a peanut was to ensure they do not develop the guilty of having killed a harmless person. O'Brien had not developed the skill to accommodate human death at such level but instead telling the stories made the experiences less real.

The things that the soldier carried apart from those of necessity such as the can openers and sewing kits they carried personal items that the author used to portray their personalities. The things they took were important to them as they were a sign of hope and source of courage during the war (Kaufmann 15). They were things they at kept their mind focused on remaining alive and probably a reward after the war. At least each thing revealed the things the soldier valued and would like to have it at the end of the war or at least that Vietnam mission. For instance, L.t Jimmy Cross carried letters and a portrait of a girl she loved named Martha. Although they were not love letters, after the terrible day he would wash his hands hold one at his figure tips and look at it hoping they were. He would start the imagination of a visit to the White Mountains located in the New Hampshire with Martha. He would sometimes tip his ting on the envelope hoping that he was kissing her. Another soldier was Kiowa who had a new testament Bible as a symbol of his faith. The things they carried were sources of hope and the need to stay alive to enjoy more of them as shown by (O'Brien's) 12).

The Vietnam War was unique from the other battles that the USA had fought for various reasons. The USA soldiers were not fighting to take over territories as when it occurred during the world wars. The war was meant to stop the insurgency in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was not against an army in an enemy state but rather in a friendly nation to promote its stability. There were no adequate troops to occupy the ground the USA soldiers were fighting upon, and this made it difficult for America to win the war. In other fights, American troops flooded the battlefield and choked the enemy till they surrender or defeated from the war. This was the first war the American soldiers were confronted with guerilla fighters, and it was challenging to face groups fighting in such a manner. The US commanders applied the conventional fighting tactics without the knowledge for waging guerrilla war, and this devastated the American soldiers greatly. For instance, the Vietnamese fighters would trap a whole battalion encircle them and kill them one by one. Many soldiers lost in fighting on these grounds as they had not experienced such a fighting front in the past wars. This war ignited a lot of fear among the soldiers which typical for wars as shown by OBrien (14). Additionally, it was the war that American people opposed as it did not add value to the USA as a nation and only wasted taxpayer money. American troops have never lost in wars, but in the first round entering the Vietnam War, the Americans lost which was a massive disappointment.

O'Brien remembers sitting in a foxhole, which was the only safe place on the battlefield, as they observed the shadows of Quang Ngai, waiting to cross the river and continue with the war to the west (Herzog 40). He narrated how he thought he might die in different ways during the war in the mountains where the Vietnamese fighter understood the terrain. The morning came, and they move through the mountains to a deserted village, as people flee after the wars became unbearable, to spend a night. He explained an incident where one soldier, Rat Kiley, started to shoot a baby water buffalo without any reason and nobody complained much. This occurrence reveals who damaged emotionally the soldiers had become. History reveals that the war veterans suffer from all forms of mood and emotional disorders. From the above incidence, its clear that they had lost their sense of humanity to the extent of killing harmless animals for fun. Lavenders death during the war affected L.t capacity to keep fighting, and this affected him even after the war. The same case happens to war veterans who keep horrible memories of their friends who died in the battlefields.

The American civilians financed the Vietnam War, through their taxes, and their sons and daughters fought as soldiers and died for a course they did not understand. For this reason, they opposed the involvement in the war as it had no national value. During the war days, in the 1960s, the civilians formed the anti-war movements that helped to raise the voice of people who wanted the USA government to stop sending the soldiers into Vietnam. The civilians also opposed the orders by president Lyndon to sustain bombings in the Northern Vietnam which led to the death of many children and women. This situation led to a public outcry to stop the war. Before then the civilians supported the war as a confirmation of American moral supremacy. The American believed that they were more idealistic and technologically sophisticated the rest of the world (Barite 10). On the other end, the soldiers were determined to end the war as the winner to ensure their friends who died it was not in vain. For instance, OBrien explained an incidence of four friends who were walking and accidentally a safety pin of a grenade got loose as it dropped to the ground. One of the four soldiers volunteered to jump on it to save the other three, so they can take part and end the war. Such sacrifices encouraged the solider to the only aim of winning the war. They celebrated all victories and took a moment to prepare further to avoid loses during the war.

The narrative of the things they carried elaborates on the experiences of the soldiers on the battlefield and what lead to their emotional stress during and after the war. The images of killing and deaths of their friends are not easily forgettable, and this torment disrupts their lives (Kaplan 14). It also shows the kind of wars that American soldiers have participated in before and that the Vietnam War was very different. The American commanders were used on the sea, water, land, and trench wars but not guerilla warfare as they experienced in Vietnam. This challenge led to massive loss of lives and resources that could have been used for developments. The soldiers carried things that gave them hope while fighting the enemies and each time they were not fighting they were thinking of the possible ways they might die during the war (Neilson 7). This shows the Vietnam was among the scariest wars American soldier has ever undertaken.

In conclusion, the Vietnam War as narrated by O'Brien was a unique one, and civilians opposed it despite the active support from the government. The soldiers were also willing to push for the same course to ensure their friends who died it was not in vain. The guerilla tactic used by Vietnamese fighters was new to the American soldier and their commanders which affected their ability to fight in this terrain. The war was won but at a huge price.

Works cited

Barite, Loren. Backfire: A history of How American Culture Led us into Vietnam & Made us fight the way we did. New York: Morrow, 1985

Herzog, Tobey C. "Tim O'Brien's 'True Lies' (?)" Modern Fiction Studies, Winter 2000. 46(4): 893916. Project Muse. Web. 30 June 2013.

Kaplan, Steven. "The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried" Critique, Fall 1993. 35(1): 4352. Print.

Kaufmann, Michael. "The Solace of Bad Form: Tim O'Brien's Postmodernist Revisions of Vietnam in Speaking of Courage'". Critique,Summer 2005 46(4):333343.Print.

Loeb, Jeff. "Childhood's End: Self Recovery in the Autobiography of the VietnamWar American Studies,Spring 1996.37(1): 95116. Jstor.30 June 2013.

Neilson, Jim. "The Truth in Things: Personal Trauma as Historical Amnesia in The Things They Carried", victorian.fortunecity.com. 21May2001. Web. 14 March 2012.

OBrien, Tim. Going After Cacciato. New York: Dell. 1978

O'Brien's The Things They Carried" Critique, Fall 1993. 35(1): 4352. Print.

O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Print.

OGorman, Farrell I1998), The Things they Carried as composite Love, War, Literature and the Arts Journal, 10 (2), 289-309

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