In the short story “The Things They Carried” Tim O’Brien gives the readers a perspective outlook on how the soldiers feel and think during the Vietnam war. The story portrays the different things that the soldiers carry with them while at war. O’Brien mentions the different items in detail, to help the readers understand his symbols. He uses his experiences during the Vietnam war to write many short stories that symbolize what it was like during the War. In “The Things They Carried” Tim O’Brien uses symbolism in the form of content, and characters to create a better understanding of love and death.
Tim O’Brien uses content to establish his thoughts about the war. The title of the story “The Things They Carried” is the theme of the overall story. He is telling us that he is going to be talking about the things that the American soldiers carry in Vietnam. “The Things They Carried” are unsuitable in comparison to their feelings of love, loss, fear and shame. “They all carried emotional baggage of not coming back home. Grief, terror, love, longing- these were intangibles (O’Brien 443). The soldiers have many personal items they carry with such as photographs, letters, and bibles. These personal items the soldiers carry are symbols for survival. To avoid feeling alone some men look at pictures and read the letters that their loved ones sent. These items help cope their minds off the war. Tim O’Brien used the pantyhose to give a soldier luck. Each soldier took something out of the pantyhose to give them something that made them feel secure.
O’Brien employs two characters as symbols. The characters Linda and Martha, Linda is a symbol of the past. This is a constant reminder of how things used to be. Linda is a great example of love and death because Linda was O’Brien’s first love and she died from cancer. His first love is also his first experience with loss. It is through her love and death the O’Brien finds comfort in stories and day dreaming which direct the plot throughout this story. Martha was also an important symbol in the story. She symbolized Lieutenant Cross’ regret and guilt beginning with the time he did not make a move on her when they were on a date and ending with his daydreams of her being the cause of one of his men’s deaths.
O’Brien uses content, and characters to symbolize the mindsets of American soldiers. The Things They Carried was a story that approached the deeper issues among soldiers during the war and left off with an idea of the everlasting horror they must deal with. Tim O’Brien uses symbols and meaningful themes to dig beyond the surface of how a stereotypical war story is perceived to be. This short story shows what the men and women who fight for our country go through to protect us.