The Things They Carried
Often when we read about wars we learn about the heroes who are strong, brave, mature men who will do anything for their country. In the excerpt from Tim OBriens book The Things They Carried, he introduces us to soldiers of the Vietnam War in a very different light. The opening chapter, which has the same title as the book, describes, of course, the objects and emotional burdens carried by these soldiers. This at first may seem to be a very strange way to open a book. However, OBriens technique is very intelligent and it captures the reader. OBrien does this because it shows the reader through both the objects they carry and mental states of the soldiers that they are not always the heroic American icons, but typically they are normal every day men.
Within the first few sentences the book immediately relates to any young reader by mentioning Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha (1). Jimmy Cross at that moment becomes not a soldier but a human that happens to be a first lieutenant. When someone is told a war story rarely is it mentioned, or considered what the people in the story had done prior to being involved in the war. These people exist in the minds of the reader or listener as soldiers and nothing more. In this story however, OBrien goes into deep detail about Martha and Jimmy Cross obsession with her to the point where you forget that Jimmy Cross is even a soldier. Following the description of Martha and the letters the readers eye broadens to the rest of the members of the platoon. It goes into detail of the objects carried by each of the men, down to how much they way. These objects give great insight to the personalities of these men. Many of the qualities of these men are things many people can relate to like Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-sized bars of soap (2).
Slowly the description furthers itself from physical objects and described the metaphysical things that the soldiers carry. This connects the characters even more to the reader. The reader begins to realize how young these soldiers are, mostly in their late teens or early twenties, and how unprepared they are to deal with the events that happen during the war. Death, arguably the most unfortunate aspect of war, is clearly something that the soldiers are not prepared for. It is clear that Ted Lavenders death is something that all of the soldiers have a difficult time dealing with. Jimmy Cross blames himself and his love for Martha for Lavenders death because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her (6). The idea of death is ringing throughout these young mens minds. Not just the death of other people but the possibility that they themselves could be killed in battle.
War is an extremely complex and difficult experience for any one. It becomes clear within the first few pages of this book that both the idea of death and the physical objects they carried would seem heavier and heavier as they days passed by and push many of them over the edge. It becomes clear why many soldiers come back from wars completely different people and in some cases mentally insane. This is also proof that those that do become heroes and remain mentally stable following their active duty are especially deserving of their praise.