The Things They Carried: Burden and Redemption
In the fictional novel The Things They Carried by Tim OBrien, scenes regarding the death of a comrade or an enemy soldier seem to convey and accentuate two unifying themes: redemption and encumbrance. While some characters, such as the young soldier who is evidently OBrien, endeavor to find some sort of closure and salvation, others, including Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, blame themselves for the demise of their comrade-at-arms and cannot relieve themselves of the painful memories. Furthermore, they carry this emotional and psychosomatic burden, comprised of anguish, trepidation, fondness, and longing after the war has ended and throughout their lives.
First and foremost, OBrien adopts the persona of the young soldier, who is one of the few characters in the book who attempts to find a way to relieve themselves of their emotional burdens through redemption. For instance, in The Man I Killed, OBrien describes the Viet Cong soldier he killed as being a scholar[who had] been determined to continue his education in mathematicsandbegan attending classes at the university in Saigon, where he avoided politics and paid attention to the problems of calculus (OBrien 122). By envisioning an extensive life for the victim, OBrien is struggling to find solace, while at the same time, making an effort to redeem himself for committing a sin. Furthermore, this type of remorse indicates the development of a psychological trauma that he will no doubt carry on after the war, which reinforces the theme of encumbrance, in which the soldiers cling to. Moreover, in the chapter Field Trip, OBrien says, Id gone under with Kiowa, and now after two decades Id finally worked my way out while standing in the river where Kiowa had met his demise (OBrien 179). The fact that OBrien returns to the same exact location where Kiowa had died two decades earlier conveys that his death had a profound and contemplative effect on him. Furthermore, by re-immersing himself in the flowing river, somewhat similar to baptism, he is endeavoring to reach closure. Clearly, these acts of redemption enable the characters, particularly OBrien, to achieve a certain measure of peace and serenity.
Secondly, while OBrien is to some extent successful in his attempts at redemption and relieving himself of the various culpabilities, others, particularly Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, are not as triumphant. For example, in the chapter Love, OBrien wrote that at one point, I remember, we paused over a snapshot of Ted Lavender, and after a while Jimmy rubbed his eyes and said he'd never forgiven himself for Lavender's death and that it was his fault because he kept fantasizing about his beloved Martha (OBrien 28). This conveys that despite the fact that Lt. Cross was NOT accountable for the demise of Ted Lavender, Cross still believes that it was a mistake that he couldve evaded if he had meticulously paid attention to his men and their surroundings, instead of daydreaming. Hence, he feels obligated to bear personal responsibility every time a soldier under his authority dies, regardless of its inevitability. Furthermore, the fact that Jimmy Cross is visualizing Martha during the war suggests that many of the soldiers in Vietnam did not have the incentive nor the desire to engage in a war in which they felt had no real purpose. Thus, Lt. Cross burden is amplified to a certain degree, because in his mind, Ted Lavenders death was for no actual reason and ultimately, achieved nothing. Evidently, the quest for redemption and the ability to unload their emotional and psychosomatic distress is not simple for veterans.
In conclusion, scenes concerning the demise of OBriens fellow comrade-at-arms in the Vietnam War accentuated the encumbrances that the surviving platoon members had to carry after the war. And in some sense, The Things They Carried is OBriens personal approach to relieving himself of the burdens that he has endured throughout his life and achieving revitalization.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried.
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990.