Tim O'Brien is an American writer who in one of his works writes about the U.S. war in Vietnam and its impact on soldiers. In 1968 O'Brien was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam, where he served from 1968 to 1970. The memories and events of that time have left their mark on Tim’s further work. Some of them became the basis of dramatic stories, dedicated to the war.
“The things they carried”, written in 1990, is one of such stories, full of human’s emotions and battle experiences. Everyone, who has ever read it, somehow mentally keeps coming back to this book. Maybe the structure of the story causes this effect: in some moments the narration goes in such a way, as if the reader is transported into the mind of a soldier thinking all day long about one and the same. There are a lot of touching moments, for example, when the author describes a death of a young man, who may not have ever existed, but who certainly existed hypothetically, and was found with the help of this book. The same situation is with his comrades who died during the war, and not only this one.
"The Things They Carried" is a story, dedicated to the soldiers who took part in the war between Vietnam and the United States. The most important point of the story is moving on. The soldiers are tired not only physically, but morally as well. The story is told in the third person, but it is clear that the narrator is the war witness. He knows all the details of war equipment and soldiers’ clothes. Moreover, we can claim that the author and the narrator is one person. Nevertheless, he observes the soldiers behavior, giving an extensive characteristic to all of them. First, the author associates his characters with the things that they carry with them. In his opinion, these very items distinguish one person from another.
The first lines of the work are devoted to the protagonist Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, who “carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey” (1). It is the first Lieutenant’s characteristic, which highlights his romantic attitude to the world. It should be said that every war is connected not only with battles, blood and death, but also with deep romantic emotions. The letters from Martha prove these words. Every Martha’s letter is special for Lieutenant; he valued them as the dearest thing in the world: “he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack” (1). Nevertheless, the reader may think that this love does not exist at all.
The narrator pays a lot of attention to the things, carried by all the characters; author believes that they correspond to their inside world. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carries these letters, which means that he loves Martha; all his thoughts are concentrated on the memories about her. Besides the things of necessity, every soldier carried something special for him: “Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RTO, carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father” (4). At first these items may seem to be ordinary things, but in this very context they find some particular symbolic implications. “Almost everyone carried photographs. In his wallet, Lieutenant Cross carried two photographs of Martha” (5). These photos served as two other tokens of his passion to this girl.
It should be said that Tim O'Brien does not show pictures of the war with bloody battles. For example, we read a statement of the fact of Lavender’s death, but not a process of struggle for life. The author even states that this war was pointless. The soldiers have just moved from one village to another, carrying the things of necessity on their shoulders. Consequently, Tim O'Brien focuses on a dynamic development in soldiers’ souls and inner world. It especially concerns Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’ internal state, which changes drastically.
Jimmy Cross is a leader, who takes responsibility for the whole team. Besides, he is reassured to be responsible for his friends-soldiers’ lives. Moreover, analyzing his last name Cross, it is likely to mean some heavy burden or overwork. When soldier Lavender dies, it hurts Lieutenant so much that this dramatic event turns his life upside down. He is tormented by inner doubts. Before Lavender’s death Jimmy Cross’ thoughts, emotions and dreams were concentrated only on Martha. To his mind, this served as a reason for the death of this soldier. Being a team-leader he had to focus on his platoon and war risk. In contrast to Kiowa, for instance, Lieutenant does not think that he is lucky, because of being alive. Sometimes it seems that Jimmy Cross would prefer to be on Lavender’s place. “He was now determined to perform his duties firmly and without negligence. It would not help Lavender, he knew that, but from this point on he would comport himself as an officer” (21).
To conclude, the protagonist Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’ attitude to life and his duties changes radically. At the end of the story he is no longer a man in love, who thinks only about his beloved. and whether she is waiting for him or not. Now he is a real officer, whose main duty is to lead his platoon ahead. The scene of burning letters and photos becomes crucial for his internal change, even if he thinks that it is impossible to “burn the blame” (20). Tim O'Brien managed to show all the peculiarities of the main hero, his dynamic developing during this dramatic story. It makes the readers to be lost in thoughts about the protagonist as an ordinary man and an officer. Both incipiencies are fighting in his soul, but the author wants to see Lieutenant Jimmy Cross being a soldier.
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