Tim O’Brien`s, “The Things They Carried”


TimO’Brien`s, “The Things They Carried”

TheVietnam War had an enormous impact on the American society, due tothe sentiments it attracted as well as the experiences of theveterans in the battlefields. The story “TheThings They Carried”is a personal experience of a young soldier who fought in the war. Inthe plot, the narrator, Tim O’Brien, describes his experienceduring the war. He describes some of the most important events duringhis service in the Alpha Company in Vietnam. He narrates what he andother soldiers went through as well as the incident they encountered.The central theme of the story is the burdens carried by thesoldiers. They include the physical and emotional baggage they tookto and from the battlefields. The author uses symbolism to representideas. Nights and darkness are used to represent the unknown whichhad an influence on the lives of the young soldiers (O’Brien,1990).

Theplot of the story is based on the narrator, Tim O’Brien, giving adescription of his experience in the Vietnam War. The title, “TheThings They Carried”represents what soldiers in the Alpha Company took during themission. They included tangible objects such as weapons and drugs,and intangible things such as fear and guilt. The physical goods thatthe soldiers carried to the war are referred to as ‘humping’.They also brought goods unrelated to the battles, which includedgirlfriend’s stockings, Bible, books, condoms and letters fromlovers. The narrator describes the horror in which the members of thecompany faced in combat. This includes how the fellow soldiers diedand the role of drugs such as marijuana and tranquilizers in dealingwith anxiety in the battlefields. Other soldiers used their pastexperiences such as memories college crush with girls to deal withthe challenges. The first member of the company to die in the warfarewas Ted Lavender. Other soldiers became obsessed with his death whilethe leader blamed himself for losing one of his men (O’Brien,1990).

Burdenis one of the central themes in the Tim O’Brien short story. The‘things’ the soldiers carried represent the physical things aswell as figurative ‘things’ which describes the burdens. Inaddition to the heavy loads of weapons and personal effects, theycarried heavy emotional and psychological loads to the war. Moreover,they left Vietnam with more burdens. For example, Jimmy Cross, theleader of the company had the lumber of being in charge of the men.He also carried his obsession with Martha, a woman he loved. On theother hand, the young soldiers carried the burdens of fear and theneed to preserve their dignity and reputations. In page 8, thenarrator says that they “carried the soldier’s greatest fear,which was the fear of blushing.” (O’Brien, 1990). They alsobrought the saddle of their unfulfilling intimate relationships. Theemotional hardship of the war is evident from the narrator’sexperience. The main challenge was coming to terms with theexperiences of dead comrades. The burden of witnessing the death of afriend is evident from how the narrator talks about the death of TedLavender. He noted that Lieutenant Cross blamed himself for thedeath of one of his men and was using Martha memories to deal withthe burden. The story is an attempt by the narrator to share hisburdens which he has carried for a very long time with his audience(O’Brien, 1990).

Nightor darkness is used in “TheThings They Carried”as a symbol. In the battlefields, the soldiers are more venerable toattacks at night due to darkness. In the story, the author narratesthat the soldiers were able to bear with the realities of the warduring the day. The situation was different during the night. In thedarkness, the soldiers were overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown.This represented the consternations they were experiencing in theirindividual lives. It symbolized the things the young soldiers wereunsure of but had an influence on their emotions and relationshipwith other members of the company. In the first page, O’Brien couldobserve Crook reading love letters from Martha during the day.However, at sunset, when the darkness arrived, he would put them backin the backpack. The fear of the unknown would emerge at night when“he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder ifMartha was a virgin”. In the battlefields, the night missions werecharacterized with quiet and waiting for the unknown, similar to whatthe soldiers were experiencing in their personal lives (O’Brien,1990).

Thestory “The Things They Carried” is narrated by the protagonistTim O’Brien. It describes his experiences during the Vietnam War.He is, therefore, the main character in the novel. The burdens, oneof the main themes, are represented by the things the soldierscarried to and from the war. They include the physical and emotionalbaggage. Night and darkness in the short story are used to symbolizethe unknown in the lives of the soldiers. The book used real namesand the author as the main character, which merges fiction andnonfiction work.


O’Brien,Tim. Thethings they carried.Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0767902890. (1990).