The stories throughout Tim O’Brien’s, The Things They Carried, contain multiple juxtapositions of images of great beauty and images of great horror. With stories including horrid deaths, to beautiful scenery, O’Brien shares with us, the depth and complexity that pertains to a war story. These contrasting images tell the audience that his experience in Vietnam contained both, framed moments, and unforgettable realities.
From sharing his initial opinion about war, to the great stories within it, O’Brien shares with us, the thrilling, the dull, and most importantly, the true, moments of war. The book begins with the things they carried—O’Brien describes the necessities of each of the soldiers, including their more personal items. He also opens us up with a plot of Lieutenant Cross, initially being lovesick over his college sweetheart, but then coming to clarity after the fatal death of a soldier of his. The book continues with a memory of Cross and O’Brien years after the war. And the author gives us our first insight into his perspective on war stories—providing us with a few peace stories and some harsh comparisons regarding war realities.
Including memories of humorous revenge jokes from Mitchell Sanders, the reassuring checker games between Norman Bowker and Henry Dobbins, having to follow an old poppa-san’s exact footsteps through the mine fields, and the feeling of guilt. But O’Briens shares many sites where war wasn’t so peaceful. The stories carry on to O’Brien’s personal story of when he was first drafted to the army. The entitlement he felt, the purposelessness and opposition of war, the rage in his stomach, the feeling of isolation and helplessness, the fear—all of which drove him to pack a bag and drive north. In hopes of dodging the draft, he planned on continuing to Canada, but was otherwise convinced of returning home and joining the war.
O’Brien juxtaposes images of great beauty with images of great horror shortly after introducing himself, with our first look on the battlefield. As he states, “A red clay trail outside the village of My Khe. A slim, dead, dainty young man of about twenty.” (O’Brien, 36). The simple scenery paints the reader a pretty picture of the surroundings, but the harsh description of a carcass, had the reader rethink their prior assumptions on war. He uses this comparison to share with the audience the horrible parts of war as well, in a way that it easily understood, and descriptive enough for us to really fathom what war realities are.