The Things They Carried – Dialogue and Materials

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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Themes and Dialogue of O’Brien in The Things They Carried War has done many horrible things to many people throughout time all over the world. War experience filled with death, suspense, and constant fear has swept through millions and millions of people who are still scared by the horrific experience. To some so horrific that a normal life, post war, was almost unbearable. But some were able to take the experience and share it to the world.

Tim O’Brien is a perfect example of this. O’Brien was born in 1946 in the Midwest, but once of age was drafted into the Vietnam War. O’Brien only served for one year from 1969 to 1970, but nevertheless, the memories gathered in that year lasted him a lifetime. (Herzog) These memories, though some held them in, O’Brien used them to transform his writings to some of the most accurate and touching pieces about war in our generation. They established O’Brien as on of the most important soldier-authors of the Vietnam generation; furthermore, they establish his reputation as one of America’s most notable postmodernist writers – not only for his themes but also for the structure of his books and his exploration from multiple perspectives of problematic nature of truth and reality” (Herzog, 78). O’Brien was a man who had an objective to be original and construct all of his memories to others the best way he could. And the only way to do that was his way.

In an interview of O’Brien, Herzog quotes from him “In this new book [The Things They Carried] I forced myself to try and invent a form. I had never invented form before. ” His writings are unique and compared to the normal dialogue of introducing characters; O’Brien takes a different approach and makes his own style. In the book The Things They Carried, O’Brien uses materialistic belongings to show his experiences from a different perspective on war and the people in it without the immediate use of dialogue. O’Brien’s story The Things They Carried is a story of company of men that are in the Vietnam War.

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These men are normal people, called into duty of war by draft. Though each person is not introduced by age, and what their history was, they way they are introduced is by what they carry in their endless walk through unknown jungles. But though they are introduced by only what their position and what they carry, the personal level of knowing a character is better than ever. The first man introduced is First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. He is the leader of all the men and whom everyone answers to. But for a man that is the one in charge his mind is everywhere but on the war.

He carries letters and two photos from a girl named Martha from home and keeps a pebble in his mouth that she sent him. He is madly in love with her but all of her letters are not love letters from a significant other but just friendly letters. “They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack” (LaPlante, 79). He wants to be focused on the war but his loving thoughts of her haunts him and takes him away from the reality of war he is in. It took him as much as a fellow soldier getting shot in the head before he knew how much a problem he had.

The machine gunner was a man by the name of Henry Dobbins. Being the machine gunner he had to carry a twenty-three pound gun unloaded, but it was always loaded, and fifteen pounds worth of ammunition strapped around his chest and shoulders. Personally he was introduced as a big man that carried Black Flag insecticide, and extra food rations. Though not a huge introduction, he can still be known as a person but also with some mystery of who he is. From his belongings, Sanders can be seen as a big man that would be a brute force character in the company, but also a vital part to the company.

His responsibility as the machine gunner with all the weight and his importance in battle puts him as a leader and a trusted man that people can rely to. His character and personality as a strong man, who can be there when he is needed, and do whatever needs to be done can be seen alone from O’Brien’s writings without any dialogue needed. Just from his position and his responsibilities his character even personality can be understood and noticed. The RTO or the man who had to carry the radio was named Mitchell Sanders. The radio he had to carry was twenty-six pounds with its battery.

He also carries condoms and starched tiger fatigues for special occasions. He is an important man to the crew but he also can be seen as a light guy, more some of the others. He carries condoms even with no need for them at all and Norman Bowker, one of the other soldiers, carries a thumb that Sanders had cut off of a Vietnamese kid only fifteen or sixteen. So Sanders can be seen as not as much of a serious guy but still responsible enough to have the responsibilities of the holding on the their only way of communication.

Dave Jensen was introduced with being all about personal hygiene. He carried a toothbrush, dental floss, several bars of soap taken from hotels, three extra pairs of socks, and Dr. Scholl’s foot powder for trench foot, earplugs, and extra sand bags for extra protection at night, and for superstitious reasons a rabbit’s foot. His position in the company is never mentioned but immediately by looking at all of the things he carries, it is seen he carries almost twice as much as anyone else. Through his items his personality of being over cautious stands out.

He is not a very big character in the story but because of how O’Brien clearly shows how cautious and scared he is to make him a bigger character. Everyone is important in the company and when O’Brien talks about Jensen, he is referring to a quarter of the soldiers that were in war that were just like him. Though these are just a few to the many he introduces to the reader, all from O’Brien’s different writing style can be experienced and enjoyed more. O’Brien with his writings uses materials of what the soldiers carry to almost control the reader about how to feel about the character, and used this writing style in other books of his.

His writing style can take you inside of the different soldiers heart and mind and with the different stories in The Things They Carried other detail are added to the story so nobody can know if his stories are real or true. This gives readers more freedom to have personal opinions. “The element of perception has to do with uncertainty…. The whole stew of variables determines what we perceive and what call real” (Herzog, Interview). O’Brien’s writing style all has a purpose with its creativity.

The Things that they carry are not only the materialistic things that the soldiers personally have but it could be anything. “Things is framed around the burdens we carry, not just war, not just physical, but spiritual as well” (Herzog, Interview). Just telling a story wasn’t enough; O’Brien wanted the reader to live it, to experience it like he did with his writing style. He wanted to tell you the story but leave mystery, his writing style was an attempt to expand readers mind further than ever before. O’Brien said, “A good piece of fiction, in my view, does not offer solutions.

Good stories deal with our moral struggles, our uncertainties, our dreams, our blunders, our contradictions, our endless quest for understanding. Good stories do not resolve the mysteries of the human spirit but rather descried and expand upon those mysteries” (LaPlante, 587) Sources 1. Herzog, Tobey C. Tim O'Brien. New York, NY: Twayne Publishers, 1997. Print. 2. Egri, Lajos. The art of dramatic writing. Touchstone, 1960. Print. 3. LaPlante, Alice. Method and Madness. W W Norton ; Co Inc, 2009. Print. 4. Herzog, Tobey C. Unpublished interview with Tim Obrien. Cambridge, Mass. , 11-12 July 1995

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The Things They Carried – Dialogue and Materials. (2016, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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