The Things They Carried
In this life, each and every person has individual battles to wage. It only comes in varying degrees and lengths, but it is nonetheless a war where one must surface from. The term war here does not necessarily refer to the typical contention by force or the destruction of the forces of an enemy.
War could also refer to disagreements between family, friends, classmates, co-workers, and even one’s own self. All people strive to conform, to defend their principles, and to stay alive. For in real life, although each and every person would rather life in peace and harmony, it is necessary to take one’s share of conflict.
In every conflict one encounter, he or she will bear physical and emotional burdens along the way. While some of it will soon be gone as the war draws to a close, other burdens remain, and in some occasions are there to stay. This is the ugly truth about life. Nonetheless, this is the common battle each and every person must endure in life. The Things They Carried written by Tim O’Brien is a work of fiction were the author narrates stories as he shifts between passages and simple depictions of the things that his comrades carry with them in the war.
The segmentation draws concentration on the tangible and intangible items the soldiers bring without downplaying the narration. In the illustrative segments of the tale, the author is quite precise in his descriptions and appears to be simply sorting the item a soldier carries. He only delivers basic descriptions without any emotion or sentiment involved just yet. In his descriptions of the intangible things, though, he is much more in tune with the sentiments of the characters while carrying such burdens. His narration employs more sentimentality in these parts of the story and inserts a huge amount of emotional weight to his audience.
Such distinction in the narrative style the author utilizes is essential in highlighting the intangible items the soldiers carry with them. This literary work presents a unified narrative consisting of chapters which can stand on their own, but when combined gives a more profound meaning and perspective to the lives and struggles of the soldiers. The starting piece positions the other narratives which come thereafter. It does not merely present the Alpha Company’s soldiers to its audience and establishes their unity, but it leads them into a totally unimagined world of war.
It introduces them to a world where practically anything and everything can be turned around (Korb 328). In the middle of the war in Vietnam, Tim O’Brien illustrates, in great detail, the things his companions carried with them to their tour of duty. The soldiers who participated in the war may have brought with them guns and ammunitions, yet even after the war ended, they still had to carry heavy emotional loads until their lives came to an end. Symbolism is used extensively throughout the course of the story even though colors and items are employed in conjunction with the illustration of particular characters.
The symbolic representations are the author’s means in conveying the profound themes of the story. Such themes include the physical as well as emotional burdens that the characters bear, the psychological effects that the war has caused them, and even the discovery of the manner in which history is bent through the flow of oral chronicles by means of narration. In some instances, the men decide to get rid of some things they carry with themselves in battle. Only by discarding the material gear of war can they obtain a sense of freedom, no matter how short lived and throw themselves out of Vietnam (Korb 329).
Certainly, they acknowledge the delusional nature of their fantasy for they are aware that they would never run out of burdens to bear. The weight of which the men carry cannot be lessened by getting rid of the war paraphernalia because it stretches further than the material reminders (Korb 330). The most difficult of all, they bear all the emotional burden of those who might succumb to death, the dreadful recollections, as well as the common secret of weakness hardly unnoticeable. All these things, they bear on the inside for on the outside, they project the tough and strong man.
Each physical burden that a soldier carries give emphasis to the emotional burden he bears at the same time (O’Brien 21). Like Henry Dobbins, at some point in our lives, people long for love and comfort. Like Jimmy Cross, people are sometimes held responsible for the safety of other people. Times are there when one must bear the heavy burden of his or her reputations (O’Brien 95). Fear is felt at various times in life from simple crisis to matters of life and death. Nonetheless, the existence of fear only reveals the vulnerability one feels for being human.
There are moments in life when one is still plagued by psychological burdens even after a tragic incident took place. Times are there when one is compelled to live with the feelings of guilt, confusion, and grief. However, in most cases, one learns to survive and surface from the tragic experiences no matter how many times he or she falls and hurt his or her self along the way. O’Brien’s narration assists his audience in carrying the weight the war has caused in a way as to embrace the past they all share in one way or the other.
The seductive appeal of warfare is inextricably inevitably associated to the tendencies of human nature in his work. Warfare, particularly the act of taking life, serves as a vehicle for some people, driving them to be the primitive versions of their persons, to be killing machines, and be less humans than they should be. The author goes back to this idea several times in the course of his work, adding slight modifications on its theme as he presents different characters who are subjected to with the similar central issues (Beidler 9; Shuman 1125).
By making use his own name to identify the narrator of the story and giving the rest of the characters such name as those he actually battled together with during the war, O’Brien blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality. Consequently, his audience finds it hard to identify which ones really happened in his life and which parts is pure fiction. He intentionally increases the difficulty when the characters challenge themselves several times over, rendering the truth in any statement debatable.
His purpose in combining fiction and reality is to highlight the point that the reality of a war story is not as significant as the act of story telling. He is trying not to explain the details of the war through the collection of tales rather, he wants to exploit the ways that discussing about war experience creates or does not create the connection which links a soldier to his audience. The technical details regarding any particular incident are not as significant as what in fact the war means to each soldier and what changes it has caused him.
The stories tell that the jungle conceals the distinction between what is right and what is wrong. The brutal killing of innocent lives on both sides is beyond justification, and in certain cases of doubt, the soldiers are forced to bear the pain by mentioning the irony (O’Brien 93). He maintains that in Vietnam, separation and loneliness are powerful forces as damaging as any other form of destruction. By highlighting the impact of isolation on the soldiers over and over again, O’Brien justifies that fears, thoughts, and doubts are as if not more dangerous than the armed Vietnamese men can be.
O’Brien’s work is filled with both essential symbolisms as well as literary devices. Even so, their presence is necessary. They exist to obtain the central unity and success of the literary work as they effectively and skillfully convey O’Brien’s ideas to his audience. The author writes simply yet effectively. He was able to draw the actual emotions and articulate those emotions masterfully. He was able to make his audience feel as if they are actually at the same time and place as the characters in the story by means of his use of clear, frank, and evocative words (Kaplan 43).
Although the author gives authentic knowledge on tactics, weapons, and all the things related to being a soldier, his concentration lies more deeply on the human element. He skilfully portrays what it means to be human in the face of horror, fear, and chaos. The stories are not told to glorify any of the soldiers. They are depicted as real people with real feelings as he gives his audience the authentic emotional truth devoid of outer trappings. His genius lies in his ability to turn fantasy into reality in such a way that he blurs the distinction between the two.
The stories may be pure fiction yet the tragedies and emotions endured by the characters in their lives are real. They appear so real that most people can easily relate to the stories being told (Herzog 6). A war fiction is not about the common war story wherein glorious tales of success and defeat are being told. Rather, one finds a certain connection to the characters in this particular literary work as the author conveys the psychological and emotional impact of warfare on them. He portrays the soldiers not as valiant warriors but as men who are frightened in a foreign land.
For the most part, this literary work is moving as it is compelling. It renders a human face to the warfare unlike a simple narrative. The author examines the things the soldier carry with them to their tour of duty by way of the intermittent narration of lives and deaths. He skilfully recounts the emotions felt by the soldiers during the haunting moments in their lives such as their feelings at the time they were conscripted, their guilt whenever forced to kill the enemies, their shock upon witnessing a friend or fellow soldier being killed, and their gnawing feeling of being away from home.
As history would have it, humanity has witnessed many wars. Soldiers who braved the battle received medals and awards as recognition of their accomplishments and heroism. While intangible things symbolizes the soldiers’ idealized great valor, medals and awards does not actually mean anything in the context of war. War, in whichever way it is viewed is a frightening idea, and as the author suggests throughout his narratives, fear is a more powerful opponent than the enemy itself, which can eventually lead to wild transformation. People manage to deal with the changes in society although certain changes can be quite drastic (O’Brien 98).
Nonetheless, in the story, as it is in real life, people see how powerful a violent war environment can be and how swiftly it can transform even the most naive individual into a cruel person. In reality, as O’Brien puts it, people all begin with a clean slate but in some twist of fate, they get their hands dirty and since then things are not the same as they used to be (O’Brien 114). People happen to be plagued by their surroundings that they ultimately learn how to blend with it, yet, they end up being a component of the crisis they are initially struggling to escape from. The innocence in them develops into brutality.
The Things They Carried is an anti-war story which makes its audience experience the war and feel the pain that comes with it. Exposure to the horrors of war causes one’s idea of right and wrong to appear distorted. O’Brien himself is affected by the absurdity of the war he has been subjected to. It has rendered him tough and heartless. He imparts to his audience the message that there is no morality in war. It is but something that is both uncertain and illogical for the reason that it thrust a person into extreme situations which offer no visible solutions. Works Cited Beidler, Philip D.
Re-writing America: Vietnam Authors in Their Generation. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1991. Herzog, Tobey C. Vietnam War Stories: Innocence Lost. New York: Routledge, 1992. Kaplan, Steven. “The undying uncertainty of the narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. ” Critique 35 (1993): 43. Korb, Rena. “The Weight of War. ” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Tim Akens and Jerry Moore. Vol. 5. The Gale Group, 1999. 328-331. O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York:Random House, Incorporated, 1998. Shuman, Robert Baird. Great American Writers: Twentieth Century. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2002.