The Things Carried by Soldiers During the Vietnam War in The Book by Tim O’Brien

Last Updated: 30 Jun 2023
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Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" is not a story about the Vietnam war, but about some soldiers and the things they carry as their platoon moves through their area of operation during the Vietnam War. As the soldiers go through their missions in the Vietnam War, these soldiers carry a wide variety of things that can be catagorized into things of necessity, things of rank, and things of superstition. The things the soldiers carry show additional information about the characters and how they are not so different from those who are not soldiers fighting in war.

The men in war carry numerous, basic things they need during the war such as pocket knives, lighters, and water. The book clearly states, "Among the necessities or near necessities were...pocket knives,...lighters,...and two or three canteens of water" (O'Brien 355). The necessity of pocket knives and other weapons indicates defense to be safe. Once an opponent strikes, then there is something to attack the opponent with to keep the soldiers from being injured.

These dangerous, deathly weapons are what can be used to keep the soldiers alive if they use it properly. Lighters and matches are necessary to ignite and activate fires which can act as either a bombard against the enemies or warmth during the more cold times. The use of water is what keeps the soldiers hydrated, energized, and alive. A scarcity of water can cause humans to die just after a couple of days. These necessities show the soldiers' fundamental need to be alive and keep fighting for their country. Soldiers fighting in war are no different from those who are back home. They have the same basic needs and wants of staying and being alive. Although their approach to this will be more barbaric due to them being in the wilderness, everyone wants to be alive.

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These soldiers do not just carry things of necessity, but they also carry the things their military rank demands that they carry. The author says, "What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty" (357). There is the lieutenant, the medic, and the machine gunner. As the lieutenant, Jimmy Cross carries a map, binoculars, and the responsibility for his men. Not all the things they carry are tangible. The lieutenant is in charge which means if any soldier makes a mistake or dies, then the responsibility falls back on the lieutenant. It is as if the lieutenant is the player in the game and the soldiers are the pieces that he chooses to make the moves.

The medic, Rat Kiley, carries things such as morphine, malaria tablets, and surgical tape. What he also carries, not physically, is the probable life of soldiers. He carries things to help heal those who are wounded in war, but sometimes soldiers may not make it and die. Henry Dobbins is physically a big man which automatically makes him the machine gunner. He carries heavy weighted things such as the twenty-three pound M-60 and between ten to fifteen pounds of ammunition. Each soldier has a special role and responsibility relating to their greater ability. They all work together to form a working army in order to fight and defeat the enemies and bring back victory and honor to their country.

Aside from things of necessity and rank, the soldiers also carry things of superstition. What they carry, they believe would bring them luck. In the book it claims, "The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition" (362). As if carrying weapons and other things were not enough, the soldiers also carry personal belongings that give them a sense of luck. The lieutenant carries his good luck pebble given to him from his beloved Martha. Martha is a girl back home who Cross has a massive infatuation for. He yearns and desires to be with Martha. Consistent thoughts of her linger in his mind which shows yet another thing he carries, mentally. He carries what comforts him and what comforts him is a little piece of Martha. Another superstition object a soldier carries is the typical rabbit's foot which is in the hands of Dave Jensen. Universally, the rabbit's foot brings good luck to those who have possession of it.

These superstitious things they carry show that these soldiers prefer to have something with them that brings them hope and knowledge that there is a chance for a good and wanted outcome. Even Norma Becker, who would not normally associate with things as such, carries something of superstition. He carries a thumb that has been cut from a Viet Cong corpse, for it was given to him as a gift from Mitchell Sanders. These objects they carry with them give them some apparent power and control over the unknown. By carrying these things, they believe that it will bring them what they want.

The things they carry are driven by factors of necessity, rank, and superstition. What the soldiers carry humanizes them. It shows that they need and want the same basic things everyone else needs and wants; they want to be safe and stay alive. Without the things they carry, they would not make it through the Vietnam War alive. The things they carry are not an option, but a necessity. It is essential that they carry these things or they would be dead in a heartbeat. Humans will do anything to stay alive even if it means killing one of their own. Readers can infer that no matter what they carry there is a burden of emotional and physical weight, but all of that weight is preserving their lives.

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The Things Carried by Soldiers During the Vietnam War in The Book by Tim O’Brien. (2023, Jun 23). Retrieved from

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