The Vietnam War In The Things They Carried By Tim O Brien

1573 Words7 Pages

Although sophisticated advancements have certainly changed the game of warfare, it has never been easy to carry, in any sense, for soldiers. Tim O’Brien evaluates the real burdens, both emotional and physical, of the Vietnam War in The Things They Carried. While the men of Alpha Platoon certainly are heavily weighed down in a physical sense, the mental burdens of war remain ever heavier -- as reflected in O’Brien’s title, The Things They Carried. Throughout The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien vividly represents the Vietnam War’s tangible and intangible impacts through the journeys of three characters: Jimmy Cross, Kiowa, and Norman Bowker. As the leader of Alpha Platoon, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carries the mental burden of responsibility …show more content…

When Ted Lavender is tragically shot, Lieutenant Cross immediately attributes his demise to his own neglect as a result of his attachment to Martha. “He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war” (O’Brien 16), states the narrator, referring to a weight that would never disappear. Much later in The Things They Carried, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross finds himself in a similar scenario following the untimely death of Kiowa. Immediately after Kiowa drowns, he blames himself -- viewing his failure to choose a suitable campsite as an exemplification of his own poor leadership and judgement.“In the field, though, the causes were immediate. A moment of carelessness or bad judgment or plain stupidity carried consequences that lasted forever,” reflects Cross (O’Brien 170). Ultimately, no one can prevent death, but it is human nature to view culpability and personal responsibility wherever they fit. Throughout the war, Lieutenant Cross is also the …show more content…

Norman Bowker, who enters Vietnam a happy-go-lucky character, is a prime example. During wartime, Bowker carries a VC soldier’s thumb, gifted by Mitchell Sanders, as well as a personal diary. Peacetime reveals more on Bowker than wartime does, but all of his burdens converge to approach a moral quandary. What is the true moral of warfare? Is there even any moral at all? “Yeah, well, he finally said. I don’t see no moral,” says Henry Dobbins (O’Brien 13). Despite the fact that warfare only reveals vague details on Bowker, his peacetime letter in “Speaking of Courage” reveal more than any horrifying, nihilistic live-action wartime story ever could. On the surface, Norman Bowker does not have as many burdens as other soldiers - he was a happy, carefree man - but for the entirety of Vietnam, Bowker was brewing internal turmoil that would rear an unfortunate head in a psychotic break years later, culminating in suicide. Throughout Vietnam, Norman feels a strong pressure to maintain absolute bravery in the face of adversity, which creates an unjustified sense of cowardice despite his overarching bravery.“Well, maybe not. But I had the chance and I blew it. The stink, that’s what got to me. I couldn’t take that god-damn awful smell,” says Bowker to his father (O’Brien 136). After Norman exits the high-pressure world of warfare, post-war reality simply does not feel real or

Open Document