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Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien Essay

The Things They Carried is a book composed of several short war stories narrated by the author and main character Tim O’Brien Within each story, O’Brien’s rhetorical strategies, narrative technique, and thematic techniques are used to express the impact and show the deeper meaning of war on the soldiers of Vietnam. In particular, the short story, Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, O’Brien retells a story told by one of his fellow soldiers, Rat Kiley. Kiley was stationed in the village of Tra Bong along with the Green Beret. An American girl, Mary Anne, was imported into the village by her fellow boyfriend Mark Fossie, a medic at the camp. Mary Anne becomes immersed and infatuated with the life of the Green Berets and her transformation illuminates as a loss of innocence and purity. Mary Anne becomes accustom to the war life, and becomes a reflection of the change war does to a solider. Tim O’Brien uses metaphor, symbolism, and foreshadow in Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong to reveal the key theme of the story, the loss of innocence.

As Mary Anne arrives to medic camp, she appears to be naïve and clueless about what she got herself into. “Mary Anne would just smile and stick out her tongue.” She’s introduced as a symbol of purity, with her “bubbly personality”, the men were envy, but knew that during Mary Anne’s stay, her life would change being in the war environment. “There’s the scary part. I promise you, this girl will most defiantly learn.” Tim O’Brien noting that the men know Mary Anne will learn something foreshadows to her purity being tainted. Mary began to “pick up on things fast” and by the end of the second week she had her hands in helping with the casualties. “She stopped wearing jewelry; cut her hair…Hygiene became a matter of small sequence”. Mary Anne arrived as a young innocent girl but by the end of the story, she became immersed into the life of the Viet manse jungle. She separates from Mark and travels with the Green Berets to go on an ambush.

By the end, Mary Anne’s “bubbly personality”, “Make up” and “Pink sweater” was gone and she became more violent and instead “wore a necklace of human tongues”. The whole antidote serves a metaphorical comparison to the men’s loss of innocence at war and change taken place. Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong is a story from one of Tim O’Brien’s men, Rat Kiley. O’Brien tells the story in third person which allows the reader to appear as if Kiley was telling the story to his men. From this perspective, it allows readers to emotionally be intact with the characters. O’Brien occasionally shifts from Kiley to himself narrating to add characteristics as an outside perspective. “Rat had a tendency to stop…inserting little clarification.” This allows the reader to see Kiley from O’Brien’s perspective brings the readers to the scene.

Experiences, as life changing as war, can result in ones loss of innocence. O’Brien brings in this pure and innocent figure, into a jungle, and uses it to refer to the impact of war on the men. “When we first got here…we were real young and innocent, full of romantic bull, but we learned pretty damn quickly”. The only difference between the men and Mary Anne is that she’s a girl. The Things They Carried is a novel made of short stories expressing the change of the soldiers at war. Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong is one of the stories examine the change the environment has tainted their purity. The Things They Carried is composed of several short stories to each are their own. Tim O’Brien explores the deeper meaning of war stories through narrative techniques, rhetorical strategies, and theme.


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