What Weighs More?
(Critical Analysis of The Things They Carried, Paper 1)
Tim OBriens novel, The Things They Carried, deals with both the physical and emotional burdens carried by soldiers of war during times of conflict. The various physical burdens fall on a balance beam between necessity, and comfort. Dire situations only develop when the comfort of one soldier outweighs the necessity of the group. It could be argued that, it is better to be liked than to lead, which insures the conflict may be won with a minimal amount of bloodshed. Furthermore, it is always beneficial to understand the various forms of anguish our soldiers are put through. This knowledge furthers our respect for their sacrifices. Yet, a soldier must stay focused on what must be done, and leave thoughts of the outside world behind. As such, the hard lesson can be examined through the actions, immaturity, character, and various trinkets being carried by the officer and his subordinates. Some veterans might argue that love and faith may deliver the hope that gives them the strength to return home. Beyond that, there is a strong unsaid connection between the First Lieutenant and Jesus Christ that appears throughout the novel. However, the price of such a short-term pleasure could result in the long-term baggage of another mans blood on your hands. As said by Owen Felltham, Negligence is the rust of the soul, that corrodes through all her best resolve.
Foremost, Jimmy Cross shares several links to Jesus Christ. In times of great stress a single person takes the brunt of the guilt or punishment for the good of the people, which is exemplified in both The Things They Carried, and in the bible. As Ted Lavender dies, Cross voluntarily takes responsibility for the death so that his men will not have to share in his burden. Jimmy Cross also assumes a great personal sacrifice by burning the pictures and letters given to him by Martha. This sacrifice is intended save the lives of everyone else in the platoon while subjecting himself to prolonged discomfort. Similarly, Jesus sacrificed himself for the good of humanity, and subjected himself willingly to suffering without complaint. First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross does a variation of the same thing. Cross risks the hatred of himself by his subordinates, accepts extra burdens to ease the lives of others, and rejects any mental comforts that may have been present. Jimmy Cross also coincidently shares the same initials as Jesus Christ, which is also tied into Jimmy Cross obvious relationship to the sign of Christ.
Jimmy Cross is the embodiment of those who receive command without the experience or the maturity to possess it. Within the story, the only indication of Cross actual ranking is in his compass, maps, and pistol. To be a successful superior officer, the desire to lead must be present, putting the lives of your men before all else, and the maturity to actual lead the men who depend on them. Cross desire to lead the platoon is questionable at best, and the actual want to lead is never expressed. Quite nearly, it seems to almost be a burden pressed upon him, a burden that could be the result of the draft. Cross immaturity and priorities are further displayed through his worries of unimportant dealings back home. When handed the lives of his men to care for, the First Lieutenant uses his time to wonder at trivial things such as Marthas virginity, where her tongue has touched the envelope to seal it, and why she so teasingly signs her letters, love (354 Kennedy). All in all, such behavior is usually non-lethal when it does not compromise the mission at hand. Unfortunately, Cross begins to fantasize while on a mission to destroy the elaborate tunnels in the Than Khe area. Jimmy Cross stands at the mouth of the tunnels and recalls Martha. Ted Lavender is then shot in the head. The death of which is the embodiment of all of his mistakes in leadership.
Jimmy Cross responds to Lavenders bloodshed with anger, maturity, and vengeance. Cross immediately blames Martha for the result. With no ability to physically take out his anger upon her, Jimmy Cross hurts her in the only way possible. He burns all of the pictures and letters given to him by Martha in an attempt to reject her from his mind, which in turn, may give the soldiers under his command a better chance at living to see another sun rise. Vengeance for Ted Lavender comes with the utmost speed and atrociousness. The small half paragraph describing how Cross and his men destroyed the village and killed everyone within, it is used to emphasize just how little they seem to care for its inhabitants. Finally, after their vengeance is exacted, they call in artillery on the village just to watch the flames tear at the already broken bodies. The deliberate mutilation of the villagers can be interpreted as a mild anesthetic. The immediate killings mask their inner torment, yet the memories return twice as strong to once again wreck havoc with their minds. The killings of the innocence of both sides create confusion within the platoon, which is exemplified by Mitchell Sanders repeating, There is a moral here (352 Kennedy). Obviously, when read as the story states the vengeance, there is no clear moral for what they have committed. There is no moral to be resolved from the incident except, blood will have blood- William Shakespeare. Cross handles the death with a much stricter organization of his troops. Thus, the First Lieutenant takes the road less traveled, and decides to keep his soldiers alive at the expense of his likeability. Cross reveals he will insist on clean weaponsa proper pace[and] they would no longer abandon equipment along the route of march. Of course, there would be grumbling, but it was, his obligation  not to be loved but to lead (355 Kennedy).
Finally, the objects carried by the platoon through their tenure on the field are, of course, necessities needed to survive and the few comforts they can afford to carry on their back. Toward the beginning of the story, the description of the equipment carried is rather light hearted. The main focus of their equipment is of necessity and the extra belongings they hump through the mountainous terrain. From a metaphorical standpoint, the assorted pleasures that the platoon carries can be interpreted as extensions of their inner selfs. Each items reveals a different aspect of the platoon. Aspects such as a religious stand point, personal fear, and desires. After the death of Ted Lavender, the tone becomes infinitely darker. The descriptions begin with the absolute necessities and digress to the platoon carrying, diseases, among them malaria and dysenteryvarious rotsthey carried the lands itself-Vietnam, the place, the soilthey carried the whole atmosphere (348 Kennedy). The transition symbolizes the change in Jimmy Cross views. At the beginning, Cross was completely enamored with Martha, but as he matures mentally he becomes more aware of the horrid nature of the war. Though all of the soldiers carry heavy physical burdens, they also carry emotional baggage, which quite possibly weighs more than the physical. Their baggage is composed of sorrow, anger, love, and longing.
In conclusion, The Things They Carried presents the various stresses war can impose on the body, mind, and spirit. Through the examination of First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, such burdens are more intimately looked upon. Even though moral is good to some extent, comfort should be traded when necessary to avoid untimely deaths. A lesson hard learned by the young officer. Yet, once the lesson has been learned, Cross matures into a true superior. He turns into a superior whose men shall stay alive, because of his own Christ-like sacrifices. Though the answer is extremely bleak and painful, The salvation of the world is in man's suffering?-William Faulkner.
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