Reflections on “The Things They Carried”
Analyzing the story s craftsmanship Tim O Brien wrote a story that is known as “The Things They Carried.” It is a carefully crafted, detailed account of a Lieutenant and his men, the time period being right in the middle of the Vietnam war. In most war stories the author spends most of his or her time describing actions and events to the reader, trying to really put the reader “right there” in the middle of everything that is happening. However, O Brien drifts away from that trend here, hardly describing any events of importance to any one but me sign. Rather, he focuses on the thoughts of the soldiers, the inner feelings, small personal day dreams and strange things that really describe the men. Being out in the wilderness, far from home or anything they recognize, these men must deal with the mental and physical stresses of war, when they jion the army I see it as signing away there souls they are then asked to murder people over stupid issues. Here is where O Brien starts up his literary art form. One thing that was interesting to mention is that I noticed when reading the story is the fact that the story is written in third person. The narrator is not actually in the story, merely telling us of the events, and yet we still get to see inside Lt. Cross s mind to more accurately picture his feelings. The narrator also, although letting us see the innermost, personal thoughts of Cross, always refers to the Lieutenant as either “he,”, “him,” or “Lt. Cross,” never speaking of him by only his first name, which may seem rather formal. Also, it is odd that O Brien the aurthor should choose the third person to write in when creating a story such as this one. Usually when an author wants the reader to feel what the main character is feeling, they will write the story in the first person point of view, to give the events and thoughts a more personal touch. However, the way O Brien phrases his sentences, it is really very simple for the reader to get that accurate feeling for the main character, even! though it is not the main character speaking. For example, on the next to last page of the story, there is a large piece that speaks about Lt. Cross s feelings. “On the morning after Ted Lavender died, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross crouched at the bottom of his foxhole and burned Martha s letters. Then he burned the two photographs. There was a steady rain falling. . . He realized it was only a gesture. Stupid, he thought. Sentimental, too, but mostly just stupid. Lavender was dead. You couldn t burn the blame.” (Hansen, 436) This section is very vivid in the portrayal of Lt. Cross. The reader can easily see the man, crouching in the bottom of a muddy hole, burning photographs while thinking of a terrible blame he felt was his: it is a sad scene to picture. Another thing O Brien does in his story is, as I mentioned above, to concentrate more on thoughts and seemingly minor details rather than on events. In the story, O Brien skips the burning of a village in just a simple remark that makes it almost feel like an afterthought. (”Afterward they burned Than Khe.” Hansen, 427) But, he spends almost half of the story explaining what exactly the men carried with them, going into full detail of why they carried these things, how much they weighed, etc. This is for a very good reason, though. O Brien uses this weight factor as a symbolism and parallel to the “weight” of the emotional baggage and mental conflicts the men must also carry with them as they trek through this strange foreign land. At the bottom of the eleventh page O Brien mentions this directly: “They all carried emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity! , they had tangible weight.” (Hansen, 434-435) He then goes on for another half of a page describing other emotional baggage they carried. This shows some of the real horror of war; not who wins or who dies, but also what effect it has on all parties involved, including the soldiers out there usually fighting battles that they would rather not be fighting. Also, O Brien seems to revolve his story around Lt. Cross and his obsession with Martha, a woman he loves from home. The story may drift to some of the other men, or speak of the weapons and equipment they all carry, but it always comes back to that issue of LT. Cross, thinking of him and Martha on the beach, wondering if she is a virgin, or just a random flash of her before his eyes. The reader acquires a very keen sense of how obsessed the Lieutenant is on this woman, and therefore the ending holds that much more significance when he burns her letters and pictures, vowing to never think of her again.