Coping Mechanisms In O Brien's The Things They Carried

Submitted By reindiggydawg
Words: 756
Pages: 4

Alexis Roberson
Ms. Dye
AP Literature
3rd Block
Coping Mechanisms in The Things They Carried The Things They Carried withstands one of the central themes of soldiers in the war carrying physical and unwanted emotional baggage. Consequently, it is questionable how the soldiers cope with the horrors of war. Throughout the novel it is shown that the soldiers use many mechanisms to manage this emotional baggage. This includes, but is not limited to, storytelling, humor and denial. Majority of the novel is a recollection of stories from the war. O’Brien states at the end of the novel that the stories are “Tim trying to save Tim’s life with a story.” (O’Brien 233). Yet, not all of the stories are entirely factual. The storyteller tends to exaggerate or obliterate parts of the stories. This is so that the soldiers can forget things that they do not want to remember, keep in mind things they do want to remember and focus on more positive aspects of the war. In doing so, this helps the soldiers cope with the horrors of war by neglecting negative aspects. For example, in “The Man I Killed”, O’Brien goes into detail on the man’s physical characteristics and possible life story, and neglects his presence in the actual situation. By doing so, he isn’t focusing on the fact that he feels guilty for killing the man or the fact that he killed the man in general. Also, in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, it is unknown whether that story is true or not but it isn’t a horror war story or death war story. It is a story that took focus off the negative things in war, and put focus on a lighter subject. Another coping mechanism that is seen in The Things They Carried is humor. Whenever a tragic incident occurs, jokes are always made in order to make light of the circumstances. For example, when the soldiers go looking for Kiowa’s body, Azar makes jokes of the irony within the situation. He says “Man, talk about irony. I bet if Kiowa was here, I bet he’d just laugh. Eating shit- it’s your classic irony.” (158). Azar is focusing more on the irony of the situation rather than the fact that he lost yet another friend. If they didn’t find a way to cope with these frequent horrors they would go mad and most likely become suicidal. The soldiers have to make light of situations in order to prevent themselves from going insane. Humor essentially functions as the means of their emotional stability during their time in Vietnam. Instead of the soldiers grieving on the deaths of their fellow men, they find the humor in the situation and laugh it off so they can continue on their journey. Denial is another big coping mechanism when it comes to the horrors of war. Throughout the soldier’s journey in Vietnam all the coping mechanisms they use cause them to be in denial of reality. Using humor to cover up horrors, and