“The Things They Carried” Novel by Tim O’Brien

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Only stories and recollections of a deceased person remain to honor their memory and bring comfort to their loved ones. However, The Things They Carried is more about Tim O’ Brien’s wish to honor and remember his fiancée, Linda, after her sad childhood death than it is about the Vietnam War. O’Brien also tries to revive the memories of all of his dead colleagues by connecting stories, reality, and time. Finally, O’ Brien finds a means to bring the dead back to life, saving his ten-year-old self from the agony of being forty-three years old, as well as everyone else who passed away between then and the end of the novel. After the conflict, storytelling gives warriors the courage to face death they did not have on the battlefield. In this paper, I will do an analysis of The Things They Carried by Tim O’ Brien focusing on information about the author of the work. It will also involve biographical details about the author’s life or world view, argue.

In Vietnam, the troops are continually at risk of death, if not expecting it due to their service. As a result of the mental duties of war, the men’s fear of death and mortality weighs heavily on them, making it difficult for them to “hump” across Vietnam with their equipment. “Some persons sought one thing, and some desired another,” but all O’ Brien wanted was “to be alive,” according to his daughter years after the war, her (In the Field 155).

In the story, death is portrayed as a random event that can happen to anybody at any time. A person cannot prevent death by taking precautions since Ted Lavender had extra ammunition in his backpack when a random bullet murdered him. Religion does not play a role in survival because Kiowa’s knapsack with the New Testament did not shield him from the surprise mortar attack (DiCicco et al., 2018). Soldiers in Jimmy Cross’ unit were killed at random; therefore, their deaths had no significance.

When O’Brien refers to Ted Lavender’s falling corpse as “dead weight,” he emphasizes the insignificance of his death even further. This implies that Lavender was just a useless member of Jimmy’s unit (The Things They Carried 6). As the novel progresses, Kiowa finds himself immersed in a “shit field” full of rubbish and filth, which he compares to the men because it is “a kind of emptiness, a dullness of wanting” (Speaking of Courage 139; The Things They Carried 14).

Soldiers have tremendous respect for life and surviving war since fatalities are worthless owing to their suddenness. Despite their apprehensions, they long to be evacuated on the so-called “freedom birds,” giant jumbo jets in which “the weight of the world slipped off; there was nothing to carry” (The Things They Carried 21). Having gained a deeper understanding of the value of human life, soldiers are compelled to cope with their dread of death. This is by using unhealthy coping mechanisms such as misleading psychological strategies such as seeing the deceased as things rather than persons and drowning their sorrow with coarse comedy. For example, in Norman Bowker’s description of Kiowa’s death, the battalion utilizes expressions like “zapped while zipping” to hide “the horror of death itself.”

As a mental diversion from their grief, the men use Ted Lavender’s marijuana after his death, just as they will in the future. Their fear of death is evident. Because all he wants is “a nice soapy bath,” Norman Bowker is blind to the sadness of Kiowa’s death (Speaking of Courage 143). However, these coping strategies prove ineffective, as Bowker “hangs himself in the YMCA” because he “can never find the words” to tell his father and others his story.

More importantly, O’ Brien acknowledges that the skill of storytelling allows troops to “give faces to lose and love” and “be strong” in painfully reliving the dead while keeping their companions eternally alive in their hearts and thoughts, and “finding a meaningful use for his life after the war” (Notes 149). In response to O’ Brien’s concern of having to face the truth about Kiowa’s death after making an untruthful first statement, Bowker committed himself, asking O’ Brien, “Where’s Kiowa? What happened to the shite?” Nevertheless, O’ Brien’s desire to include these details in the second piece “makes good on Norman’s quiet” (Notes 154). “Mathematics” has no meaning for the Asian guy whom O’Brien debatably kills. As an extended metaphor for Ted Lavender’s life, “his left face peeled back” and a single eye with a “star-shaped hole” has no meaning for the Asian man whom O’ Brien also debatably murders.

Despite Kiowa’s advice to “C’mon man, speak about it,” the novel focuses on O’ Brien’s anxiety of addressing the loss of his childhood sweetheart, Linda, and storytelling proves to be the only way for O’ Brien to move on from this catastrophe by keeping her alive in his thoughts and memories (The Man I killed 124). There are numerous accounts of Lavender and Kiowa’s death, but O’ Brien only briefly mentions their deaths near the beginning of his book and does not bring them up until the final chapter, when the full story of Linda’s illness is told.

It took O’Brien decades to gather the courage to tell the stories of his fallen comrades before he could gather enough strength to write about the significant disaster of his life. This book’s ending, after dealing with his past through the war tale, would allow him to face the humiliation of failing to stop Linda’s bully and the meaninglessness of her death in the same way that “we kept the dead alive with stories” (Lives of the Dead 226 ). There were no brain tumors, funeral homes, or bodies in his mind or memory from stories where he “could see Kiowa as well as Ted Lavender” and even his ten-year-old self “Timmy” were all alive and united once again in the last sentence, where he says: (Lives of the Dead 232).

This story uses fortitude and the link between creative fiction and reality to assert that imagination paints a more authentic reality to bring back the dead. O’Brien’s narrative also makes use of this relationship. To begin with, O’ Brien admits that his narrative isn’t “real” in the traditional sense; he claims that “almost everything else is imaginary” in the chapter Good Form (Good Form 171). When it comes down to it, his stories are nothing more than half-truths and misremembered incidents. On the other hand, these fictional tales portray O’Brien’s friends and Linda’s life more accurately than any true story he could have written as a battle veteran.

Only by sharing one’s experiences in combat can one recover from the trauma of the incident and find closure (Beach, 2017). As Kiowa suggested to a friend, “Why not talk about it?” This relieves soldiers of the responsibility for keeping their departed loved ones alive and meaningful by having others share their feelings and memories (The Man I Killed 124; The Things They Carried 3). Making a story “targets your own experience,” according to O’ Brien. Detach it from oneself to externalize “a swirl of memories that may have resulted in paralysis or worse” while “pinning down certain facts. ” (Notes 152). Putting words on paper doesn’t give O’ Brien or anybody else in his stories significance or life.

Fiction and imagination are more effective in engaging and re-engaging the reader in the process of figuring out what “actually” happened and what did not. Rather than taking sole responsibility for remembering and understanding his past, O’ Brien enlists a community of readers to determine the uncertainty and accuracy of events, as well as their significance regardless of whether they happened. It is through fiction that readers can see the underlying truth in events and thus truly experience them, much like when O’Brien, on a field trip with his daughter to Vietnam, dived headfirst into the now-calm field of Kiowa’s death to understand how Kiowa felt as he died only to “slap hands with the water,” demonstrating that physically understanding is insufficient.

In conclusion, the story is based greatly on O’Brien’s personal experience during his service in the Vietnam War. He entered the war a scared young man but he finally left the war being guilty ridded old man and therefore it is a way of coping with the travesties that he saw in Vietnam by telling his story. He is very sure that the stories cannot rise the dead or even destroy the memories of all what he experienced but instead wants to feel people’s presence with him. He feels to be keeping his platoon members alive by sharing the stories.

Works Cited

O’brien, Tim. The things they carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Web.

Beach, Richard. “Students’ Use of Languaging in Rewriting Events from The Things They Carried.Dialogic Pedagogy: An International Online Journal 5 (2017). Web.

DiCicco, Jonathan M., and Benjamin O. Fordham. “The things they carried: generational effects of the Vietnam War on elite opinion.International Studies Quarterly 62.1 (2018): 131-144. Web.

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