Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Things They Carried Essay

The Things They Carried Essay

The Things They Carried is a collection of interconnected short story pieces which all together add up to dramatic force and tension of a novel. Yet, each one of the twenty-two short stories is filed with such emotional content, “and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own” (Harris, 8). The Things They Carried portrays the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, Lieutenant Cross (Tim O'Brien himself) who has survived the war to become a writer. The young boys who over the course of couple of days became soldiers fight the enemy and occasionally each other. They do not know the art of war, they do not understand it, they go with the flow of their feeling and emotions. As it is written “On occasions the war was like Ping-Pong ball. You could put a fancy spin on it, you could make it dance" (O’Brien, pg.32).


One of the biggest disasters that the war brought for the young soldiers is isolation and loneliness. They miss their families, their girlfriends and friends. They miss the lives they left behind. At the same time, they are still kind fellows. They show their kindness for strangers, for example, in case of the old man who led them unharmed through the mine field. The also find love for each other, because in Vietnam each of them is the only family they have. In this amazing book we hear the voices of the members of the Alpha Company and build images based on their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, helps us hear the stories they would like to tell about themselves. The stories soldiers tell bring the dead back to life. What is more important is that when telling stories about people one may feel like they are still alive. The soldiers in the book do this so that they do not have to think about the fact that their friends are in reality dead.

There are two main topics the book is dealing with that are the questions of bravery in war and the effect the war has on the soldiers. Lower I would like to present couple of the examples. In this book bravery is often interrelated with cowardice. The young men want to appear brave, but only because they are afraid of looking silly in front of their friends. The main character remembers about a situation that occurred in the grade school and where he was not brave enough to show that he is scared. He continues "I should've stepped in; fourth grade is no excuse. Besides, it doesn't get easier with time, and twelve years later, when Vietnam presented much harder choices, some practice at being brave might've helped" (O’Brien, pg.234). This quote shows that the young soldiers are not really brave, they are just confused about what bravery is. They went to war not because they supported it or wanted to show themselves in the field – they went because they were afraid not to. What they experience is a simple fear and shame.

In chapter six two young soldiers by names Strunk and Jensen think that life would not be worth living if they get injured. For them the death and disgrace would be to be crippled on in wheelchairs. Though, the course of the war is unpredictable and Strunk loses part of his leg. He is terrified, and realizes that primarily he wants to live, with two full legs or even one and a half. He realizes how childish he was, he understands that what he thought was brave is simply absurd, the main important thing is to live.

The effect the war has on a person is seen in the first chapter when before the reader appears a situation of a young solider dying and his fellow-fighters mourning for him. When Jimmy Cross understood that Ted Lavender was dead, and that he could have prevented it, his perception of life changed. Before, what he could think about was only his girlfriend Martha. He was a loving boyfriend before he was a soldier. Later he realized that the only thing that cannot be changed in this world is death. This occurrence made him apprehend his duties as a soldier and all what seemed important then became dull. In chapter three we see that the lack of a purpose sometimes drives the men crazy. The soldiers feel that there is no morality to what they are doing. Their wartime life seems eternal, boring, boring and frighteningly useless. In chapter five Dave Jensen becomes unable to tell what is right and what is wrong. He had been in the field for such a long time that he got confused with what/who he is fighting.

In chapter nine we realize how an innocent young girl Mary Anne Bell, who was only in Vietnam a few months, lost herself in the country. She became, as Rat Kiley described it, “an animal”. In the last chapter we see the most important effect a war has on a person. The war gives a person a new understanding of death. The protagonist of novel realizes that those who died in the war are not really dead, but they live in the memory and imagination.

Without a shadow of doubt, having read The Things They Carried we understand that we have not been fooled or lied to. Tim O’Brien is not afraid to put himself, the author, in the middle of the novel. He is not afraid to admit that he was also scared and confused (Vernon). This book is the greatest fiction and a searing touching autobiography. It is deep with symbolism and meaning and the human life, bravery, survival, and death.
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