The Things they Carried

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

Probably, The Things They Carried is Tim O’Brien’s most famous work. The book is represented as a set of related short stories, which tell about the people of the Alpha Company, the foot soldiers in Vietnam, and the Vietnam War in general. Besides, it deals with the weird and confusing nature of the war, the insufficiency of simple facts in communicating definite crucial truths, and the estrangement of the Vietnam War vet.

If reading it carefully, one can see that The Things They Carried tells the story of a soldier who is trying to correspond with non-soldiers. He is trying to tell the civilians what he overcame, and what consequences the war had for him. Moreover, the author tells the readers that the image of war, which is depicted in video games, Hollywood movies, and even severe, grim war novels, is a fake one. By the means of this book, Tim O’Brien tries to show the readers what war is like in reality, without the Hollywood glamour or the thrill of a game. Some of it can make a person laugh, while others can make a person want to throw up. However, if one is going to send warriors to war, then he or she needs to know precisely where he/she is sending them to.

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In his story, the author revealed the whole range of themes; among them are the truth, writing and literature, warfare, guilt and blame, foreignness, friendship, weakness, and reputation and respect.

The author switches back and forth flanked by narrative voices, setting the question about what is real and what is not even more bewildering. A reader starts the book with the story “The Things They Carried,” and he or she thinks that this book is told in the third person about a group of guys. Then all of a sudden, in “Love”, the book switches to a first-person essential narrator; here, O’Brien talks to one of the characters from the story “The Things They Carried,” and it becomes obvious that the author was there all the time during that first narrative, unnamed. As a rule, the literary work uses first-person narration with the utilizing of a secondary narrator – indeed, there are only a few stories where Tim O’Brien is an active affiliate, as it was discussed in the analysis of his character. Nonetheless, there is still one more time when the author switches to the all-knowing narrative voice in a third person, and that is in “In the Field” when he is declaring his blame for the Kiowa’s death. In this case, a third person adds to the feelings of guilt and pain. By compelling distance between his deeds in the meadow with Kiowa and himself, the readers can see now how much it upsets him.

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The author uses a lot of symbolism in his literary work in order to make the story deeper and more complicated. The young man stands for all of the unknown Vietnamese victims. Indeed, there were hundreds of thousands of people who died in Vietnam; many went nameless, buried by the US soldiers or blazed by napalm. With the young man on the track, the author is trying to give the Vietnamese victims identity and some dignity.

Mary Anne is the symbol of American haughtiness in Vietnam. The woman arrives dressed in culottes and pink sweater, curious and fresh-faced. She is wondering about everything. She perceives the deep-rooted argument as a feast, merrily treating a Viet Cong stranglehold like a vacationer town and swimming in a river that is probably encircled by snipers. Like the Americans who were sure that the war would be simple and over rapidly, Mary Anne thinks that she cannot be touched. Nonetheless, she is touched. She is stuck in Vietnam, and she eventually cannot leave; in fact, she even does not want to leave. She wants to consume the country since the simple learning about it is not enough for her. In the long run, the woman skids away from the soldiers because she is not on their side any longer and follows through the night, coping with death.

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To sum up, as one can see, Tim O’Brien was not actually an employee in a meatpacking plant the summer before he went to Vietnam; moreover, he did not go up to the border of Canada in order to try to escape from the war and then think better of something and come back home. One can say that it is a symbol of his psychological state at the time. He cannot get the frightening idea of murder out of his head; it is all that he is able to think about; this is why he thinks about escaping. He is on the edge; finally, although, he backs off it. He does not go to Canada. Regarding Elroy Berdahl, one can state that he is an essential symbol in all of this, as the author openly states: “He was the true audience. He was a witness, as God, or like the gods, who look on in absolute silence as we live our lives, as we make our choices or fail to make them” (O’Brien 74).


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