The Things They Carried" Compared to Neisser's "Five Kinds of Self Knowledge

Ulric Neisser’s Five Kinds of Self-Knowledge tells about the five distinct selves that all people encounter throughout their lives. The five kinds of self-knowledge, according to Ulric Neisser, are: the ecological self – the physical self that is in relation with a particular environment; the interpersonal self – who you are at a given time in relation to other people; the extended self – the self in relation to its past actions; the private self – the emotions and thoughts that are only yours; and the conceptual self – the roles that we, as people, play in society to others.

In The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a story of Tim’s journey to self-knowledge. The story of one unified self would not for either Neisser or O’Brien. While reading, O’Brien tells stories about himself and the people close to him before, during, and after the Vietnam War that show the distinct kinds of self-knowledge. The first self that a person encounters is the ecological self.

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The ecological self is a physical self that is in relation with a particular environment. This self is directly perceived, meaning we are not aware of it as we are using it or are in it.

The ecological self does not always coincide with the biological body. What we are can be determined by what we are wearing or what we have. In The Things They Carried O’Brien talks about how the things the soldiers carry are part of them. But what a person carried was determined by themselves or by their rank, The things they carried were largely determined by necessity…Together, these items weighed between 15 and 20 pounds, depending upon a man’s habits or rate of metabolism.

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Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake.

Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-sized bars of soap he’d stolen on R&R in Sydney Australia. Different people carried different things depending on what they needed to survive in the environment they were in, and this differed from person to person, as you can see in the quote from O’Brien. The things they carried were also determined by the extent of their superstition, “Lieutenant Cross carried his good-luck pebble. Dave Jensen carried a rabbit’s foot.

Norman Bowker, otherwise a very gentle person, carried a thumb that had been presented to him as a gift by Mitchell Sanders. ” The things they carried were part of them, like clothes are a part of you when you wear them, but you don’t notice them. The second self that we encounter in our lives is the interpersonal self. This self is who you are at a given time in relation to other people, or the immediate present. This self is also directly perceived because you are not aware of it as you are using it or in it. Tim O’Brien is the author of The Things They Carried but he is also the main character.

He tells all of these stories that show how he felt about things and how he sees them while he is writing them, “What stories can do, I guess, is make things present. ” O’Brien is who he is because of the experiences he went through in the war; if he didn’t go to war he wouldn’t be the same person. Every day he went through the war, he changed. Maybe his life would be different if he didn’t go through it, maybe he wouldn’t be an author because he didn’t have anything to write about, and maybe he wouldn’t have a daughter.

They may not notice, but everyone has an interpersonal self because of what they do in everyday life. The next self that people encounter through life is the extended self. The extended self is the self in relation to its past actions. This self shapes the future. People look back to their past and make judgments about the future or present. People look back to see what they did wrong if they’re in certain situations and they look back to see what they did right. In the war, “Almost everyone humped photographs.

In his wallet, Lieutenant Cross carried two photographs of Martha,” every time he looks at the photographs he looks back to when he was with Martha, and not in Vietnam. He looks back to when they went to the movies together and he touched her knee and how he could touch her knee for hours if she’d let him. O’Brien sees himself in the present time and sees how the stories he is telling have molded his life, Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever.

That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story. As he says, “Stories are for joining the past to the future,” if he didn’t have these stories where and what would his future be. When the reality goes away all you have are the stories. The private self is the most important of all the other selves. It is the emotions and thoughts that are only yours.

They are what you are that no one else will see. O’Brien says, What stories can do, I guess, is make things present. I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again. “Daddy, tell me the truth,” Kathleen can say, “did you ever kill somebody? ” And I can say, honestly, “Of course not. ” Or I can say honestly, “Yes. He can hide something from someone if he wants, and only he will know. The soldiers did not show much emotion because they were afraid to, “They were afraid of dying but they were even more afraid to show it. They wouldn’t think of themselves as soldiers if they were afraid to die. They would feel embarrassed if someone found out they were afraid of dying.

They didn’t want other people to see how they felt and they would do almost anything to not let them see, “They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die from embarrassment. The thoughts and emotions that went through the soldiers must have been enormous, but they were only theirs and they would not show it, even if they don’t want to think that way, “He wanted to share the man’s pain, he wanted to care as Jimmy Cross cared. And yet when he closed his eyes, all he could think was Boom-down, and all he could feel was the pleasure of having his boots off and the fog curling in around him and the damp soil and the Bible smells and the plush comfort of night. ” A man’s thoughts may be his but he may not be able to control them.

Kiowa wanted to feel bad for Lavender’s death, as Cross did, but all he could think of was the smell of his Bible and everything else surrounding him in nature. A person’s private self is theirs and only theirs. The last self is the conceptual self. The conceptual self is the role that we, as people, play in society to others. It is a cognitive model of ourselves, how we think about our self. This self comes from us and from what we have done. It comes from all the other selves because it is the last self that we encounter. But, most importantly, the conceptual self comes from what other people see us as.

O’Brien says, “They were called legs or grunts. ” This is what they were seen as. They have brought themselves to be “legs” or “grunts” because of their choice of going into the war. They could have left and fled to Canada, like O’Brien thought of and told us about in the chapter On the Rainy River. Their choices throughout their whole lives have brought them to be the people they are today, and getting through all the selves have helped them to do this. They were all soldiers, and for O’Brien the ware gave him who he is now. He also wrote, “What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty. What they carried depended on their roles they had as soldiers. They all carried different things, such as different types of artillery and the different necessities for their roles, and you could tell which rank the soldier was at by what they were carrying. One unified self would not fit for either Ulric Neisser or Tim O’Brien. For the most part, one unified self would not fit for anyone that has a full life. Everyone has the ecological self because they own things, even if it may not be much, that they use daily that they don’t even notice they are using.

Everyone has an interpersonal self because everyone is doing something at a given time, maybe they are sleeping but they are still doing something. Everyone has an extended self because they have done things in the past that have helped them make judgments for their present, even children do this when they don’t do something because they got in trouble or yelled at for doing it before hand. Everyone has a private self because most everyone has thoughts and emotions that they keep to themselves. And, lastly, everyone has a conceptual self because everyone plays a role in ociety, when it might be a corporate executive or a 4 year old boy. The only really exception to this are babies that have not gone through enough of their life to have these selves, except for the ecological self.

So Neisser and O’Brien would not have one unified self because they are people that have gone through life and have experienced all of these selves. According to Ulric Neisser’s Five Kinds of Self-Knowledge, “self knowledge is based on several different forms of information, so distinct that each one essentially establishes a different ‘self’. Most everyone encounters all of these ‘selves’ throughout their lives, from the ecological self to the interpersonal self to the extended self to the private self and finally to the conceptual self. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a very good representation of these selves seen through the eyes of a soldier in the Vietnam War. He tells many stories that show the reader how he felt and how he handled everything that was going on in his life before, during, and after the war. It is a great representation of how he went through life and the reader can see how he encountered all of the selves while doing so.

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The Things They Carried" Compared to Neisser's "Five Kinds of Self Knowledge. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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