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The Things They Carried

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The Vietnam War: Weight of Emotions “The Things They Carried” is a short story that describes a group of soldiers and the tangible and intangible items with which they chose to burden their bag packs and hearts. The author creatively manipulates two different ideas, such as ambiguous morality and loneliness to exaggerate the theme which is of physical and emotional burdens. The soldiers carried vital items for survival during this difficult time of their lives. The men tried to take comfort in the personal items and memories they brought with them while they were away from home. With a list of each item a solider took to war, the author carefully pieces together a puzzle about who these characters are. O’Brien’s use of imagery helps to visualize the battle field and understand the soldiers. As the story starts to unfold, the reader is greeted by a love struck narrator by the name of Lieutenant Cross. O’Brien describes the relationship between the narrator and Martha, a girl from back home who he is in love with, but she in return does not share the same feelings. Cross carries letters she wrote and fantasizes daily of their illusive love. His love for Martha becomes more of an obsession. “He loved her so much he could not stop thinking about her” (O’Brien 598). His constant question of her love for him causes Cross to fall short of his responsibilities as the leader of the platoon. “Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter--he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin” (O’Brien 596). Lieutenant Cross will eventually have to pay a price, for his internal feelings love. As the story continues the burden of fear becomes evident and is depicted as a tangible weight. “Grief, terror, love, longing-these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight” (O’Brien 604). Besides the physical items they carried which weighed between fifteen and twenty pounds the emotional baggage is symbolized as a tangible item as well with it bearing its own weight physically. All the soldiers carried items that kept them distracted; with the items at hand the soldiers built an imaginative utopia. For example, Lieutenant Cross carried letters and photos; each item had an emotional connection one being of love and the other of anticipation. When he would read her letters all he could think of was his love for her, and when he meditated on her photos all he hoped for was to be with her. The Bible Kiowa carried brought him comfort and reassurance. The things they carried can be divided into three essential groups. The things they carried by option, the mandatory things that had to be carried, and the mental and emotional burdens they humped without choice. Ted Lavender , a soldier was shot dead, because of the internal baggage of fear which he carried. Instead of dealing with his fear, he simply used drugs and tranquilizers to forget. After his death, other soldiers were aware that they might die at any moment. They covered up their fear of “blushing” with grunt lingo. Cross was in deep hurt and blamed himself for the loss of his comrade. He was so entangled with his imagination and did not take the effective measures of precaution, therefore causing the death of a soldier. “He tried not to cry--He felt shame. He hated himself. He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead” (O’ Brien 602). However, Cross still continues his illusive romance, but he can’t help but beat himself up over the death of Lavender. He then persuades himself that he no longer loves Martha he burns the letters and the photographs she sent. The burning of these items is symbolic; Cross is shedding the weight of the things he carried. He shuts out Martha (the real world), and thinks only of his platoon. He makes a decision to piece together his crew and makes them also shed some weight of the things they carried. The soldiers in “The Things They Carried” fought an internal and external war. Each solider is described as carrying tangible and intangible weight. They carried the necessary items for living, they carried luggage that we also carry in our own daily lives, and they carried personal assets that reminded them of home. Sometimes, just as these soldiers did, we hump more than we can bear, but when stripped of all these physical materials we are left with our emotions, which will forever haunt us.

Work Cited
O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Carried.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dan Gioa. 11th ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2009. (595-607)

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