The Things They Carried is a collection of stories fiction and nonfiction told by author Tim O’Brian. Through the narratives told through the eyes of his characters, it links them together because of what they carry, but paradoxically it distinguishes them as well. His recollection of short stories conveys the grotesqueness of the Vietnam War, the power stories can have, and the anti-war sentiments felt amongst and other draftees he served with. He emphasizes that war cannot be generalized, and contrasts of the effects of war and what war is like. He has an abundance of major points, often referring to anti-war themes that are seen in many veterans of the Vietnam War. With proclaiming the stories in his novel being untrue in order to emphasize the power of storytelling, there are still underlying messages that are reverberated throughout the story. Themes such the physical and emotional encumbrances, the PTSD and anxiety accompanied from combat, and lives robbed to serve the country. This is further exacerbated by himself and other interviewees of the Ken Burn Series: The Vietnam War, with other primary sources depicting veterans sharing the same feelings.
Tim O’Brian’s novel alludes to the many emotional and physical tolls the war has taken on the men in his platoon. The physical toll is the enormous load they carried, their weapons, ammo, ruck sacks, and equipment totaling over 50lbs. The items they carried were of necessity to survive, but often times they would abandon their supplies in order to alleviate their pain. They would dump their rations, set off their claymores, and not wear the issued protective gear such as the helmet and flak jacket because they wanted to become more comfortable. Often times, they would conduct these actions on their marches and during the movements they would operate in extreme heat within the jungles of Vietnam furthering the physical toll.
Along with the gear and equipment they carried, they would also carry with them, their emotions. Early in the book, we are introduced to several characters. Platoon Leader Jimmy Cross carries the letters of his love interest Martha from his home. These letters led him to carry feelings of romance, along with all the hypothetical outcomes that could arise about their feelings. He had an internal struggle with himself because he debated whether the feelings were mutual or if she had moved on as her letters indicated as they were mostly chatty and elusive on the matter of love. Whether it was their faith or their love, this war that they did not understand took them away from their homes transforming these emotions into burdens later on. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross focuses so much on his romance, that he allows for his negligence to lead to the death of Ted Lavender, a soldier under his command. Lavender would be shot because of the lax standard set by Jimmy Cross because of his focus on Martha, and the death of Lavender would be one he never overcome.
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