The Things they Carried by Tim O’Brien is a narrative account of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The author recounts the experiences of a platoon of soldiers who were deployed to fight in Vietnam. He draws from the soldiers’ day-to-day encounters with the Vietcong combatants, and how such experiences affected them both physically and psychologically. The author also explores the collateral damage of the Vietnam War, especially in terms of the losses suffered by the local civilians who were caught between the fighting forces. At a deeper sense, however, The Things They Carried is a portrayal of the negative impact of war not only on the victims who get killed or have their livelihoods destroyed, but also on the soldiers themselves. The most remarkable aspect of the novel is the autobiographical approach it employs as it recounts O’Brien’s own experiences and those of his colleagues while leading a platoon of solders deep in the jungles of Vietnam. In this light, the title of the book is symbolic as it refers to the psychological burden they carried for being far away from home and their families, and the guilt they suffered for being participants in the meaningless deaths of many innocent civilians. Accordingly, Tim O’Brien’s main theme in The Things They Carried is the social and psychological impact of war on countries, victims, and the soldiers themselves.
In describing the actual luggage that the soldiers in the Alpha Company carried- ammunition, M-16 rifles, grenades, and pocket knives- O’Brien portrays the guilt and psychological burdens that combatants have to deal with. While the weapons that soldiers carry represent the burden of carrying a nation’s destiny, it also symbolizes the personal burden they have to deal with; reconciling their consciences to the harsh realities of war. O’Brien suggests that soldiers are forced to discard their emotional sensitivities to deal with the human damage they cause. Even after the war, they live with stigma of having killed so many innocents. The emotional torture that Norman Bowker experiences after the war in “Speaking of Courage” illustrates this point. His “grief and confusion are so strong that they prompt him to drive aimlessly around his hometown lake to write O’Brien a seventeen-page letter explaining how he never felt right after the war” (O’Brien 131). Most of the Alpha Company members were non-veterans who were brutally removed from their normal lives and plunged into the madness of war. As O’Brien notes, “Most of the men who fought in Vietnam were in their late teens and early twenties—they were children, students, and boyfriends who had no perspective on how to rationalize killing or come to terms with their friends’ untimely deaths” (O’Brien 23).
He advances the idea that war is at one level a collective, national responsibility that compels nations to go into war. At another level, and the most critical one to the combatant in the field, it is a personal issue that places a huge psychological burden on individual soldiers. For instance, Henry Dobbins, whose giant physique makes him a heavy eater, is compelled to carry more food rations to satisfy his physiological needs. He also wraps his girlfriend pantyhose around his neck due to his superstitious belief that it will bring him good luck. Kiowa, a very religious person, carries a Bible, perhaps to invoke the mercies of divine providence. While these actions may be regarded as manifestations of superstition, they reflect the fear of death that persuades individuals to desperately cling to anything they believe will guarantee their survival. The fear of death, the anxiety of not seeing their loved ones back at home again, the guilt of the deaths they must cause, and vigilance they must keep to survive in enemy territory is the sum of their burden, “the things they carried” in their hearts from day to day.
Lieutenant Jimmy was among a group of young men in Tim O'Brien's short story about unprepared soldiers for the Vietnam War. The soldiers carried heavy rations and supplies that they thought would last them for a long time. They also carried their girlfriend's pictures and intangible things like fear, sadness and confusion. Most soldiers pretended that they did not feel as much as they did, to avoid being silly among other soldiers. According to the story, the men did reveal their emotions in earnest or humorous ways. Just like the soldiers in the story, there are some items, both tangible and intangible; that I carry to school. These items give some insight into who I am and the significant things that define my life (O'Brien, 1998).
Some tangible things that I carry to school are my alarm clock to help me keep time, reading lamp for studying at night, a dictionary that helps me build my vocabulary, thesaurus and a writer's guide, aspirin or other pain and stress reliever, a baseball or other cap for bad hair days, a bathrobe and a bathing suit, a blanket, a calculator to help in any calculations, a bottle opener, music CDs, cleaning items, nice clothing that perhaps will last until the first trip home, a computer and a printer to help with the assignments and a daily planner and a calendar. Some requirements remove hidden fears and make me feel more comfortable. Some of these include dental floss, a deodorant, first-aid kit, fast food, hair care products, hygiene items, money for books and other necessities, food, entertainment, clothing and perfume or cologne.
Tim O'Brien writes that the soldiers carried some intangible things like fear, anxiety, and guilt. Tim explains some memories which he still recalls witnessing young men getting hardened by grief, anger and injustice. According to the writer, the young men suffered by knowing that people at home were not aware of what they were going through. The scenario is very familiar when am going to school. Like the soldiers, there are some things I carry along that helps me conquer the apprehension and the fear of the unknown and some which remind me of my family back at home. Like the soldiers in the story, I have the fears when going to school which actually reminds me of who really I am and which of course reminds me of the things I care about (O'Brien, 1998).
I am small and short for my age but very enthusiastic and spirited. I was a cheerleader in high school and this has contributed a lot into the way I lead my life. I consider myself organized, positive, loving, and a leader since I have been the class president. Cheerleading has armoured the traits that I have learnt at home. These optimistic individual personalities have helped me to achieve in my previous goals. I believe the same characteristics will most definitely be valuable in helping me attain my future goals. Every time I encounter a challenging decision, I have some fears that I might make a wrong decision. However, my past experience as a cheerleader and as class president has exposed me to many aspects of leadership. It has also boosted my confidence that enhanced my ability to make sound decisions.
Making the decision on which college to attend was a hard and important decision for me. I wish to carry on cheering in college since I believe this will assist me achieve my goals. I carry a few pictures that remind me of my time as a cheerleader and all the medals and presents I have won. My academics will continue to remain imperative to me in college as they have always been. To achieve my goals, I will need strong, competitive grades in all precondition subjects. I have chosen a highly competitive field but my perseverance and determination, the skills that I have perfected during my time as a cheerleader will help me. Cheerleading helped me become a confident, hard working, optimistic and a grateful person. As a cheerleader I developed friendliness as my squad became my second family. I have appreciated the spirit of teamwork, perseverance and competitiveness. Some fundamental qualities that I have are optimism, respectfulness, and accountability.