The use of symbolism in this story is really amazing. Using the items soldiers tend to take with them to combat zone Tim O’Brien is able to tell a lot about what really soldiers have in mind, their characters and even what might be going on in their personal life. I find this a story interesting to me because when I was deployed I carried things to keep me going. Personal little items I carried with me had a meaning.
In this story, although the writer is talking about things that soldiers carried with them, he is passing a message with a different meaning.
He is not just telling an interesting story but also describes each of the main characters by telling the readers what these characters carry. Some of the characters carried things demanded by necessity and while some carried emotions and love. All these things they carried symbolized something. In this story, the writer is able to show in detail, each of the soldiers’ ways of dealing with the stresses of war by what they choose to carry.
The writer calls this “humps”.
Lt Jimmy Cross carrying love letters symbolizes how desperate these soldiers are for love. Lt Jimmy is dealing with the devastations of war by pretending that a girl called Martha is in love with him even though he knows that she is not. He would vividly fantasize, imagine and even got carried away by Martha. Clearly affection and love was Lt Jimmy’s way of escaping the horrors of everyday. Mitchell Sanders the RTO and Henry Dobbins escape the reality of war by fantasizing about sex.
Mitchell Sanders for example carries condoms and tiger fatigues while Henry Dobbins has his girlfriend’s pantyhose “around his neck as a comforter. Rat Kiley on the other hand carries comic books as an escape. The New Testament Bible carried by Kiowa symbolizes religion and the solid foundation of what the soldiers believe in. The use of tranquilizers by Ted Lavender symbolizes fear and how painful the death can be. Carrying lice and diseases and they still survive shows how these soldiers were strong and how the living conditions were horrible.
The use of poncho in carrying the dead body symbolizes the creativity of the soldiers and how equipment can be modified to perform more than one function. Normal Bowker carrying a thumb symbolizes these soldiers’ minds, body and spirit have dissociated. Carrying a thumb which had been cut from a corpse symbolizes numbness and emotionless. Soldiers marching for the sake of marching and with no purpose and no winning or losing symbolizes that they were just doing what they are ordered to do by the government.
They left supplies wherever they go since they knew that the chopper will supply them with more equipment the following day. This symbolizes how financially the government is and how resources are being wasted in times of war. Lt Jimmy after blaming himself for the dead of Lavender he decided that he will start instilling discipline and avoid living the things they carried or throwing away the equipment. This may represent a larger group of citizens back at home who are opposing wasteful spending.