The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien Essay
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
After reading the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, told stories of forlorn love and of their women. It gives the reader a very good sense of what young men experienced during the Vietnam War, even though it was a work of fiction. The story that is very easy to read as well as the book read for this assignment. The book is a collection of stories told in different perspectives that when taken together becomes a novel, the short story only gave a glimpse of the whole work. Although fictional the stories fit real characters, perhaps real men the author had experiences with during his own tour of Vietnam.
The book begins with the character that is a mirror of the author and the main point to the book is what everyone carries with them into battle whether it is guilt or love and love was a very frequent theme to pop up in the stories. In an article by Pamela Smiley she asserts that women in the book are the central core. Smiley has some problem with the depictions of love that are in some of the stories. She felt that because of the time era, a time of free love. Some of these stories are too far fetched to be relevant to the Vietnam era. She uses a quote from the book in a story about Timmy who, “wanted to live inside (Linda’s) body.
I wanted to melt into her bones—that kind of love” (O’Brien, 258). I really don’t agree with her reasoning because I have read much older books with love themes and some of them can be quite graphic on how much a man can love a woman that basically has the two melting into one. Smiley writes, “This fusion of woman and man is not the stuff of Woodstock and the causal sex of the Pill” (612). From what I understand of the era and from what I have read mind and body melting was popular at the time.
With Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, the author sets the tone for the rest of the book and stories. It details the leader’s personal conflicts and how he is distracted with the thoughts of his love back home. This love is more fantasy for the young solder. It seems that many times throughout the book fantasy was a way of coping for many of the Alpha Company.
The commander blames himself for the death of Tad Lavender, which I believe most people would experience during war and especially when given charge of the group. This was something that many of the men felt, guilt. Norman Bowker felt this when he was unable to save his friend Kiowa and Rat Kiley carries guilt when his friend is blown up by a booby trap. I guess the main theme of the book is what everyone carries with them or the guilt of killing, guilt from not being able to save someone or guilt from fear and weakness.
Lorrie N. Smith felt that the author, Tim O’Brien feminized his characters. Using the short story The Man I Killed where it details a dead and mutilated body that gives reasoning to Smith’s thesis. O’Brien describes, “a slim, dead, almost dainty young man. He had bony legs, a narrow waist, and long shapely fingers. His chest was sunken and poorly muscled—a scholar, maybe…” (139). To myself I felt that this story and detail was more of telling how the dead man might not have been ready for war, much like all of the young solders. Smith writes, “The almost homoerotic fixation on the dead men’s body suggests the narcissism Eric Leeds, referring to Klaus Theweleit’s study of Freikorps troops finds at the heart of warrior culture” (II).
Following with both of the feministic views of the references used was difficult. Both have stretched too far into the abyss for meaning. The book was clear in meaning and interpretation. It gives the reader a chance to feel deep into the heart of young soldiers during a very difficult and terrible war. Because of the book being about war there were some very graphic and violent descriptions, but they were needed to help the reader to understand. After reading about the author it was very interesting and possible that the author used his own reflections and experiences to the novel to give it life.
The descriptions of the symbols each carries with them makes the stories even more personal and anyone can relate to that in the items they have saved as special in their own life. Whether it is the ticket stub to my first concert, to the collar I refuse to throw away because it was worn by a dog who was the best friend you have ever had. This book is very moving and a must read for everyone from young adults to undergraduates. Very moving and eye-opening to an era that has passed.
McMahan, Elizabeth, Day, Susan X., Funk, Robert. Literature and the Writing Process. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Person/Prentice Hall, 2005
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carry. Philadelphia: The Franklin Library, 1990.
Smiley, Pamela. “The Role of the Ideal (Female) Reader in Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’: Why Should Real Women Play.” Massachusetts Review 43.4 (2002): 602-612.
Smith, Lorrie N. “The Thing Men Do: The Gendered Subtext in Tim O’Brien’s Esquire Stories.” Critique 36 (1994): 16.