The story The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of many stories about the war featuring the main protagonist Tim O’Brien. Although O’Brien is in the story, he chooses to write this book in a fictional way. The reason is so he could incorporate figurative language to make the story to appeal to everyone. The short stories in this are revolving around the Vietnam War that was going on. The stories talk about what these men carried with them. Physically like weapons and emotionally like the civilians they have killed. The Vietnam experience is what Tim O’Brien tries to portray to the rest of us to give us an understanding of what these men faced through.
This story has multiple characters that all represent a type of person during the war. Our main protagonist, Tim O’Brien, was never expected to get into the war. The draft surprised him and it made him turn into a mess. He was under emotional distress with a fear of embarrassment. He feared his family and the town would disown him because he is against the war. Tim all his life in college was antiwar, but the draft turned him around to a mess. He ends up going to Vietnam to fight were he joins the group who were in Vietnam for longer than him.
Many stories revolved around him and his experience because of him being the main protagonist. When arriving in Vietnam, his group leader is Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. You would expect of Jimmy Cross to be tough, but actually, he is the opposite. He constantly daydreams about a girl he liked back at home who continues to send letters to him. The girl is Martha, who doesn’t even love him back. She for some reason keeps sending Cross letters to comfort him perhaps. When he wakes up from this dream is when one of his soldiers, Ted Lavender is shot and killed. Cross constantly blamed himself for the death and it changed him. He burned the letters he kept and the pictures in an attempt to move on from Martha to protect his boys. Ted Lavender is a scared man fighting in this war.
To combat his fear he always carried tranquilizers and dope with him to relieve himself. Lavender was a flat character in the story because there was only that information given about him before his death. He represented the people who feared in the warfighting and also helped shape Jimmy Cross as well as the others. Another who was affected by Lavender’s death was Kiowa. Kiowa is a religious Native American who was the nicest one in the group. He respected everyone and was almost everyone’s friend. When Lavender dies he starts thinking if there is even a God. He most likely represents how he is an actual native of America and differs than the rest but still gets along and feels for others. Another person affected by Lavender’s death is Norman Bowker. For example, when Kiowa wants to talk about his death, he was telling him to be quiet (but eventually was ok listening to Kiowa). We don’t see much going on with Bowker until after the war where he suffers. His father doesn’t speak to him and his ex-girlfriend is now married.
O’Brien talks to him later after Bowker is desperate for a resolution. O’Brien was a failure to talk with though and sadly he hangs himself. Going back to the war, there is a character called “Rat Kiley”. Rat is a character who told many stories, real and fake. He is important because he tells lots of very important stories to the people. Rat was also a medic for the group. Rat, however, is emotionally destroyed seeing his buddies die and blames himself for not being able to help. This causes him to shoot his toe to get out of the war. This causes a need for a new medic. The new medic will be important because he is nervous treating people and causes O’Brien to be in large pain form a wound that was supposed to be treated. O’Brien seeks revenge on him with the help of Azar, but in the end, they forgive each other because both changed. Each character represented different types of people in the war to create this whole story.
Three short stories portray O’Brien’s time in Vietnam as well as the other soldiers and their conditions. The three short stories are “Things They Carried”, “The Ghost Soldiers”, and “Night Life”. The short story “Things They Carried” was universally showing what the men were carrying. Things listed they carried were physical, mental, and emotional. Some physical things they carried were necessities, for examples weapons, rations, a poncho, etc. Other physical things they carried depended on their personality and past. For example, Kiowa always carried a Bible because of him being a Baptist. For him, it held also emotional worth that reminded him of his father who gave him it and taught him everything. Other stuff that was carried mentally by all is the land. They are fighting in this land for no beneficial reasons for them that also pulled them down emotionally.
Emotional things they carried were the people they killed and the deaths of their buddies. The conditions of the things they carried were poor and had no reason to even be there. The things they carried made them all eventually fall and break apart. It could be as fast as Ted Lavender’s death, to the people still alive who have these scars within them that they cannot relive. Another short story that showed the conditions faced by the soldiers is “The Ghost Soldiers”. This story is on how O’Brien wants to seek revenge on Jorgenson because he caused him pain while being a medic. Jorgenson was incapable of treating his shock causing the pain to O’Brien.
With O’Brien seeking revenge, he is tormenting Jorgenson. It shows that a condition that they faced were each other. It is mostly shown with O’Brien’s actions toward Jorgenson. They eventually forgive each other at the end of the chapter. Lastly, “Night Life” also portrays conditions faced by soldiers. This story portrays mostly emotional conditions faced. This short story shows why there is a new medic. It is because Rat Kiley had too much emotional distress he was carrying. He is haunted by the deaths of others under his hand and begins to question if he wants to shoot his toe to get out of Vietnam. He does and is sent out of Vietnam. This showed the ranges of how much emotional conditions they had to face, not counting physical conditions.
Even though the short stories are revolved around the battlegrounds of the Vietnam War, there are stories of the others before and after the war. The two most important stories are “On the Rainy River” and “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”. The two showed how it had long term impact on people’s lives. “On the Rainy River” showed O’Brien’s life before going into warfare. Before in college, he was antiwar and discussed freely why he was against it.
Things started falling apart for him though when he was recruited to fight in the war. He had lots of things swirling in his mind. He wanted to flee to Canada because he was against the war, but he feared that his parent would disown him and the whole town would see him as a failure for not fighting for his country. It impacted his life in the war because he does not want to be there and it causes him to think a lot if he did flee. He thought about if he would be happy or would it have been worse. “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” showed a story by Rat how a soldier brought his girlfriend to Vietnam, but transformed throughout the stay.
The girlfriend is Mary Anne Bell, who is a soft stereotypical woman for the time. She was bubbly to all and was kind and smiled all the time. This started changing however slowly ultimately transforming to a strong independent woman attacked to the forest leaving her boyfriend. She could be represented with America because America was also transforming as the war was progressing. This story showed a long term emotional impact on Mary, but also a visible physical impact for being exposed to Vietnam.
Tim O’Brien wrote this book as fiction, even though he experienced the Vietnam War first hand as a soldier. I would say this was very effective for him to write it as fiction because it allows him to take his past and shape it to add figurative language making the book more appealing to others to read. It also makes the book unique and more interesting making it also appealing for others to read and see the long-lasting effects of the Vietnam War. It can be seen in lots of short stories like “How to Tell a True War Story”. It had a sprinkle of fiction seeing it is a made-up story, but each story written by O’Brien had a powerful message showing the readers points and the life of the people in the war.
While this book is a very powerful piece of multiple short stories, the weakness of it is that there aren’t any views or stories on the Viet-Cong side of the war. What would have made it perfect would be at least one short story on what the Viet-Cong were thinking and facing during the same war they were in. It would then show the two sides of this war. You could even show three sides of this war because you could mention the South Vietnamese fighting alongside the Americans. The book putting that to the side does a great job on showing what hardships the Vietnam War had on the men who served. The book is also credible because the author had firsthand experience in this war (even though he wrote in fiction). This was also a very enjoyable book to read because it was unique to standard formatting in normal books, making each short story stand out in its way. In conclusion, Tim O’Brien did a fantastic job in portraying the things these men carried to war and carried back to their homes post-war.