A Deconstruction of The Things They Carried
Tim OBriens story was very hard hitting and visual for me. His use of diction and sentence structure played in well with the point he was trying to convey. When first reading the title of this short story you can imagine what you are getting into. The things soldiers carried with them through out their escapades, one would usually think of physically heavy items first. OBrien listed almost anything you could think of the men carrying. After each object stated, he would tell the reader how much it weighed. Doing this he gave us an idea of how much these men actually carried in weight. It may have been difficult, but for them it was an everyday part of life. These items varied greatly in size and mass from a simple picture weighing a few ounces to 68 pounds of pentrite explosives. The men carried things for different reasons and different situations. Out of necessity, some carried specific personal belongings at all times. Others carried things because of pure superstition. All of these items physically weighed down each soldier. They also carry things out of a sense of security. Not everything is something that they can use. Bringing along certain items gives the illusion of safety (p421}.
Emotional weight was an underlying theme not as apparent as the physical baggage of the men. These soldiers not only had to deal with the 100-some pounds on their shoulders and back but also countless thoughts weighing on their minds and hearts. These men had visions of their fellow comrades being shot in the head with blood and guts everywhere. It stated that the soldiers would often abandon equipment along the path but mental images are something that cannot be dropped or forgotten. Having such a traumatic experience like that is impossible to erase from your mind. Its true that they would never be at a loss for things to carry (p424). The physically heavy items seemed to be easier to carry with them.
Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is constantly referring to his girlfriend back home on a numerous occasions. Somehow every situation relates to her. Martha is on Jimmys mind more that she should be. Doing this though, helps him to not think about the war and allows him to daydream about happier days. When Ted Lavender is killed, Lieutenant Cross has a change of mindset. This is, in my opinion, the climax of the story. He is so overcome by his death that he blames himself for being so careless and placing Martha on a more important level than the men dying next to him. His mental weight was more that he could endure.
One contradictory idea I found was the opposing meaning of life. At one point in the story, a soldier states that Mostly he felt pleased to be alive (p426). This is an understandable comment especially coming from a man in war. Later in the story the idea of life comes up again. This time the view has changed. It was the burden of being alive (p426). After a time of panic and firing weapons, they soldiers would have to get up and know that the same situation would happen all over again at any moment. OBrien toys with the idea of playing dead or faking hurt just to relieve the stress of war but they wont embarrass themselves like that. I respect that decision of not being a coward. This scene plays in with the emotional/mental weight of the story.
Another contradictory element I discovered was the idea of jokes. After a small battle most of the soldiers are quiet and reconstructing themselves. When they are all together again they begin to joke about the previous activities that have taken place. One soldier states that he almost shit [his] pants (p26). Normally people dont usually act in this way after something that could have been incredibly tragic happens. It would have been looked down upon as disrespectful. In this case it sets a lighter, more unruffled mood than before. I imagine they do this to relieve some of the tension that has been built up. In my opinion, I dont think it was quite the right time for that kind of behavior but in the state of mind of a soldier, its fairly reasonable.
This story may have been meant to express the lives of soldiers every day. If you look farther than what meets the eye, you can get a whole lot more out of it. I feel this was written partly to give you an idea about people in war but also to let somebody see how much something can weigh on your mind. People say some things are mind over matter. I couldnt agree with that statement more. A large amount of things that weigh on our mental thoughts could be significantly harder to deal with, but if you are in the right mind frame, I believe you can accomplish just about anything you want to.