EN 160 Lit & Comp
6 March 2014
Within the short story “The Things They Carried” the author, Tim O’Brien, recounts the experiences he had during the Vietnam War through the eyes of his fellow soldiers. Throughout the story O’Brien also describes the personalities of each one of his comrades, but without using any direct statements. He describes them through the art of symbolism. All the items listed in “The Things They Carried” are directly correlated to the characterization and overall nature of Jimmy Cross, Kiowa, Henry Dobbins, Bob Rat Kiley, Ted Lavender, Mitchell Sanders, and Dave Jensen. O’Brien expresses all of these personalities by illustrating that the thing that each man had brought to the war, what they carry with them, is the primary representation of their self-identity.
The first soldier discussed in the short story is Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. What Jimmy Cross carried were multiple letters from a girl who went by Martha; he also had two pictures of her that he kept in his wallet. Unfortunately, for Jimmy Cross these letters were not love letters, but they still brought him an immense amount of security and comfort while he is at war. Jimmy Cross yearned to be loved by Martha. “More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her” (p.344). He is madly in love with Martha and is desperate to get that love back in return even if it is through pictures or letters. Even though Jimmy Cross is physically at war it is quite obvious that he is not mentally there; he wishes that he could be with Martha. The letters and pictures symbolize Jimmy Cross’ mental state. They represent that he is unstable with his emotions; his thoughts are all over the place that he cannot even focus on what he is supposed to be doing, which these distractions eventually leads to the death of Ted Lavender.
As a devout Baptist, Kiowa is viewed amongst his peers as being a very religious man that is dedicated to his faith and God. The most significant item that Kiowa carried with him throughout his time at war was the New Testament (Bible) that his father had given to him. During the night Kiowa used the New Testament as his pillow. “He opened his New Testament and arranged it beneath his head as a pillow” (p. 354). To Kiowa sleeping with the bible provided him with a physical and mental comfort and also gave his mind a momentarily escape from the war. Overall the bible symbolizes that Kiowa was a honest and faithful comrade during the war. In addition it showed that even in the most ungodly places, like war, Kiowa is strong even to carry his faith with him.
Henry Dobbins is a big, but sweet man; he is said to be a gentle giant. Furthermore, he is extremely superstitious and that is why he carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose along with him at war, because he believed that the pantyhose brought him good luck. “Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose wrapped around his neck as a comforter” (p.349). The pantyhose is a symbol for support. Even though Henry Dobbins is very afraid to be at war he has support and will be supportive of others. Also the pantyhose gave him a sense of strength. He believed that they could protect him in any situation.
The youngest character in “The Things They Carried” is Bob Rat Kiley; he was only 19 years old. Correlating with his age, Bob Rat Kiley carried with him comic books. This symbolizes his innocence and youth. O’Brien is almost saying that Bob Rat Kiley was too young to be involved in a war. His mind was not ready for all those cold nights and gruesome battles. “Oh shit, Rat Kiley said, the guy’s dead. The guy’s dead, he kept saying, which seemed profound-the guy’s dead. I mean really” (p.351). Bob Rat Kiley witnessed things during the war that he had never seen before, sometimes he was in shock as to what he was seeing. That is why he had to bring the comic books along with him. They provided Bob Rat Kiley with a comic relief and also reminded him