9 April 2015
Theme In “The Things They Carried”
The short story, “The Things They Carried” follows a platoon of men who are fighting in the Vietnam War. Each man has certain ties to the homes they left behind. Among the homesick group of men is the author of the story, Tim O’Brien. In “The Things They Carried,” he illustrates the struggles of the platoon by using physical and emotional burdens from the war and the physical and emotional burdens that have ties to their home life. The men in the company carry these burdens with high hopes of surviving the struggles of Vietnam.
The men in the platoon carried physical burdens that enabled their survival in Vietnam. Most of the physical items carried for survival are the necessary weapons and necessities to sustain life. Some examples of weapons, “In addition to the three standard weapons: the M-60, M-16, and M-79, they carried whatever presented itself or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive” (O’Brien 406). The soldiers only concerns were making it home and helping their comrades follow suit. In a review by Don Lee for Harvard Book Review states, “… a recitation of the grunts’ weapons and gear, builds an enactory rhythm… they carried M-60s and C rations and claymores, and the common scent of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down it required perfect balance and perfect posture” (Lee 13). The quotation shows that the physical burdens for Alpha Company’s survival in Vietnam were not always as it seemed to be, not always ammo and bandages but also the physicality to survive. Though this was an important aspect of the theme, the physical burdens do not stop only by cause of Vietnam but also with physical burdens the soldiers carry from their lives back home.
The soldiers carry physical burdens that often reminded them of home life and better days without war and hardships. Not one man in the platoon is caught without having a multitude of items that remind them of home or even loved ones. For example, “ First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey” (O’Brien 402). Even though these were not love letters they were a helping tool for Jimmy to have hope that he would have someone to return home to. Another example would be a less romantic, Kiowa who carried a bible that was presented to him by his father which reminded him of the times he shared outside of Vietnam and in the safe haven of a church with his father. The physical burdens carried by these men show only the true reality of their unhappiness at war and their longing to be home. Physical burdens is not the only aspect the soldiers and O’Brien is effected by though by any means, the soldiers also carry burdens on the emotional side of their spectrum.
O’Brien and his comrades bare emotional and psychological burdens caused by their setting and daily struggles in Vietnam. In a review by Tina Chin for Contemporary Literature she states, “ O’Brien’s investigation of the literal and metaphoric relationships between stories and bodies, particularly as such affiliations forged by psychology of exile and displacement… a yearning to reverse the unwilling transformations conjured by combat experience; the inexplicable sense of exile that troubles any possibility of an easy return” (Chin 77). What Chin was trying to explain was that the platoons minds are lost to the war, which entails that they have a sense of hopelessness that they will never make it out of Vietnam. The emotional scars of the men run deeper than the trenches that their fallen comrades lay. The emotional burdens the men carry are caused mostly by the deaths of their platoon members, O’Brien gives and example of Rat Kiley, the medic, watching Ted Lavender get shot in the head right after Ted finished doing