The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried Ben Cornelius The story “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien is an enormously detailed fictional account of a wartime scenario in which jimmy Cross (the story’s main character) grows as a person, and the emotional and physical baggage of wartime are brought to light. The most obvious and prominent feature of O’Brien’s writing is a repetition of detail. O’brien also passively analyzes the effects of wartime on the underdeveloped psyche by giving the reader close up insight into common tribulations of war, but not in a necessarily expositorial sense..
He takes us into the minds of mere kids as they cope with the unbelievable and under-talked-about effects or rationalizing death, discomfort and loneliness as well as the themes of heroism, physical and mental pain, and a loss of innocence. Obrien achieves this through extended description, imagery and tone coupled with an intimate relationship with the stories main characters. O’brien repeatedly states what each soldier is carrying for two reasons. The first reason is character development.
The more the reader knows about a character’s possessions the more he/she effectively knows about the characters themselves. An example of this would be how Cross carries a picture of a girl, fantasizing whether or not she is a virgin. Dobbins carries extra rations and his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck. This implies superstition and an above average weight. Ted Lavender carries weed and tranquilizers to placate his anxiety. This suggests an inability to cope with death or violence; perhaps wartime as a whole.
Finally Kiowa carries an illustrated copy of the new testament and a knife given to him by his father. These possessions allude to the fact that he is a man of god with a respect for his father. I think it id ironic, though, that all of these men’s non-military items are of no real consequence in the war. They don’t do anything. It could be argued that these items are a mode of escapism for the military men. that it helps them cope mentally. I, however, would argue to the contrary, I think that all of these hometown relics only really provide anguish.
They serve only as a tangible reminder of what they are missing and who will miss them if they fall to the earth in the war. Character growth is also essential to the story. In the beginning Cross fantasized about a girl named Martha. He fantasizes weather or not she is a virgin and subsequently, fantasizes about different ways to take her virginity. This fantasy consumes him until the day his best friend and army compatriot, Lavender, dies. Cross believes Lavenders death to be his fault and decides to put his fantasies to rest and assume, fully, a position of true leadership.
This change in character is also marked by Cross’ destruction of the picture. The destruction of fantasy is also significant in that it shows Cross’ transition from boyhood into man hood. The primary difference between childhood and adulthood is the burden of responsibilities. At a certain point every young adult must submit to these or be a failure. This submission is a melancholy time as it marks the end of unbridled optimism and the beginning of pragmatism. For Cross, this change is especially melancholy because the catalyst for his change was the death of a loved one.
Cross loss of innocence here is, however, not singular in the sense of the story. Cross’ loss of innocence is symbolic the loss of innocence that all of his soldiers must face. But even more so, it is symbolic of the lost innocence of whole generations and their countries. In any wartime scenario the youth of feuding countries must put aside innocence and take on the morbid responsibility of death and war. They must start to understand the complex nature of extremely volatile geopolitical relationships and put their own nature aside to assume the identity of a nation.
An identity which is intrinsically corrupted. As a reader I was very much disturbed at Cross’ loss of innocence. After Lavender dies, Cross crouches in his foxhole in the rain and burns the two pictures of Mary that he has as well as the letters. I think that the symbolism of rain here is really poten,t but also carries contradictory messages to the reader. Rain in general, is a symbol of purification, but I think in this context it is also symbolic of extreme sadness and depression. I like the fact that, through personification, the rain could represent innocence trying to preserve itself.
This means that he rain itself doesn’t want cross to burn the pictures. Also, in the aforementioned contradictory sense, the rain also represents the extreme sadness that is accompanied by crosses loss. It is also important to note that this loss of innocence is supplemented by an image of death. When Cross burns the pictures and letters it could be viewed as cremation. I felt the same sense of loss while reading this as the bereaved would feel. This part of the story represents a very literal death of innocence. In the same paragraph Cross explains that he now Hates Mary.
Because in Cross’ mind Mary is responsible for his own distraction and thus the death of Lavender. He says that he still loves her, but in a hating kind of way. This shows that when Cross lost his innocence, he also lost his ability to harbor pure love. Now all his future love will be tinged with the sadness and pain of his first love. His purest love. The tone of “The Things They Carries” is very much dark and foreboding. To support the tone of the story Obrien uses dark color schemes and dark emotional schemes as well as the weather and setting.
O’brien writes “kiowa shook his head sadly and glanced over at the hole where Lieutenant Jimmy Cross sat watching the night. The air was thick and wet. A warm dense fog had settled over the paddies and there was the stillness that precedes rain. ” Here, O’brien uses the weather to show the melancholy of the situation. The reader is enveloped by a sense of loss and fright. The stillness that precedes rain suggests that the soldiers have not yet accepted Lavenders death. They are in denial. They are still innocent in their denial. Only upon acceptance will they be able to lose their innocence and become real soldiers.
The thick air is indicative of emotional and physical oppression. Physically the soldiers have to deal with illness heat and discomfort. But mentally they have to deal with the fact that, if they are to accept their emotions it would be overwhelming, therefor not an option. They would squint into the dense, oppressive sunlight. “For a few moments, perhaps, they would fall silent, lighting a joint and tracking its passage from man to man, inhaling, holding in the humiliation. ” O’Brien writes of the emotional oppression as a means to avoid humiliation.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 January 2017
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