Mortality In The Things They Carried By Tim O Brien

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At some point, all people must accept the harsh truth of mortality. When people realize it for the first time, they can go through a change in character. The young medic Rat Kiley, a character in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, exemplifies this. His reaction to the sudden death of his best friend Curt Lemon, as portrayed in “How to Tell a True War Story,” depicts the shift of character that accompanies loss. Moreover, it reflects the inability of soldiers to return to normalcy after experiencing the traumas of grief. There are two phases to Kiley’s reaction: torturing a baby water buffalo and writing a letter to Lemon’s sister. The former conveys loss’ ability to corrode a victim’s mind, while the latter reveals a barrier between the soldiers and regular members of society. By …show more content…

As Kiley begins, O’Brien notes that his goal is “not to kill, [but] to hurt” (O’Brien, 79). O’Brien clarifies Kiley’s intentions to emphasize the contrast between him being a medic and a torturer. Additionally, O’Brien elucidates the death of Kiley’s psyche by equating him with his victim. He remarks that, while crying, Kiley “[tries] to say something, but then [cradles] his rifle and [goes] off by himself” (79). Similarly, he states that the buffalo was silent, excluding a light bubbling sound where its nose had been (79). By torturing the buffalo, Kiley reflects his decaying psyche onto the physical body of the buffalo; in the end, both try to scream but have no mouth to do so with. The buffalo, therefore, is a symbol of Kiley himself, just hurting in a different way than he. The scenario with Kiley and the buffalo expresses the destruction of the former’s psyche along with the latter’s body. While this scenario shows the deterioration of Kiley’s psyche, the next conveys the lasting barrier between the soldiers and

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