O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” is one of the most recognized literary works around the globe. The things they carried is a collection of twenty-one stories with striking similarities. All the stories revolve around the same subject; war. O’Brien explains the harrowing experience that soldiers undergo in battlefields. The most interesting part about O’Brien’s collection of stories is the way he manages to hide the truth from the fiction. The novel sends readers into a web of confusion trying to figure out whether the author tells a true-life story or just it just pure fiction. The cover of the book is clearly written “ a work of fiction,” but what follows is a series of blurred true events. Therefore, it is evidently clear that Tim O’Brien primary objective was to comingle fact and fiction through a war story.
The characters used in the story are imaginary according to the author. However, they bear the names of real individuals. The protagonist in the play; Tim O’Brien resembles the same very real person Tim O’Brien who fought in the Vietnam war. The author uses this style of writing to tell a war story he fought in Vietnam together with his colleagues without necessarily chaining himself to pure facts. The author’s use of fiction helps in bringing out the underlying message and events that transpired in Vietnam. The readers are able to picture the big image of the events that occurred during the war. Another author’s general objective was to present the soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war and their contributions during the war. First LeutenantJimmy Cross, was the team lead and his main task as the military leader was to guide, advice and unite the platoon. However, although Jimmy worked closely with his fellow team members, he was physically present but emotionally and mentally absent. The memories of a young girl by the name Martha had driven him crazy with love. His love for Martha surpassed that for his fellow soldiers. Surprisingly, Martha never loved Jimmy. Instead of being vigilant and leading the crew members like a true dedicated military officer, Jimmy spends most his time daydreaming about Martha, a behavior he would later come to regret after one of his soldiers was shot in the head. The death of Lavender hit him so hard that he realized he had not been paying close attention to his men. The burden of the death of Lavender was heavy to bear but he “he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war”( O’Brien, 1990, p.16). Basically, when soldiers are preparing to go war, they collect each and every essential item that they think would be important in the battlefields. According to O’Brien, the platoon carried in addition to ammunition what they deemed close and comforting. Thus, the title of the book “The Things They Carried” was coined from the things the soldiers carried as they prepared to embark on their journey to the war.
Tim O’Brien successfully uses the soldiers’ preparations to explain major themes in the book. For instance, Lieutenant carries letters apart from other basic necessities. He reads the letters regularly which gives him hope and courage in Vietnam. The letters were from Martha, a girl he loved so much although she never loved him. “He wanted Martha to love him the way he loved her” (O’Brien, 1990). Ted Lavender, another crew member, was not only scared cared of the war but also death. He was the first member of the team to meet death. Lavender was so afraid and scared that he carried tranquilizers that would help him drive away his fears. It is evidently clear the soldiers have both physical and emotional burdens. The items the soldiers carry to war help them during the harrowing experiences of the war. According, Tim O’Brien the soldiers’ emotional burden seems to outweigh the physical burden. Generally, soldiers are supposed to be courageous and determined regardless of the outcome of the war. However, in this book, the soldiers are filled with fear, anxiety, and expectations. Lavender is so afraid that he keeps smoking marijuana in a bid to keep his hopes alive. The physical burden presented in this book include the necessities such as weapons that soldiers would use in war. Emotional burden refers to their fears, expectations and distractive thought. Jimmy Cross, who is the most senior officer in the group is burdened with the responsibility of managing the team. As the team leader, he is supposed to ensure that the team is united towards achieving a common goal; defeating the enemy. In case the team his defeated and some of his crew members are killed, he would be answerable to the government back at home. Readers can clearly see and feel the fear inside the Alpha team members as portrayed by Tim O’Brien.
The things that the soldiers carried to war may seem useless from the reader’s perspective. However, O’Brien uses them to accomplish in bringing out the theme of love. Love in this scenario may refer to the things that give the soldiers hope during the terrible experiences they endured in Vietnam. Love is demonstrated by the soldiers throughout the book. From the preparations to the war periods, love is demonstrated by the Alpha team through their unity. Each team member has respect for their team leader Jimmy Cross although, most of the time his mind and thoughts were miles away. The country had high expectations. Thus, the Alpha team knew very well that the only way they could avoid ruining those expectations were strengthening their togetherness bonds. O’Brien presents the theme of love as the main unifying factor among the Alpha squad. O’Brien depicts the death of Lavender as a thorn in the bond connecting the Alpha team. Every member of the team was brutally bruised by that death. Jimmy Cross, wept blamed and “hated himself” (O’Brien , 1990, p.16). Death was cruel; Lavender was gone, gone forever meaning that the gap that he left would never be filled. The entire team felt the loss, mourned and moved on. In fact, their unity strengthens further following the death of Lavender. Jimmy Cross became closer to his men; he let go the memories of Martha. O’Brien successfully used the death of Lavender as the triggering factor that helped the Alpha team realize the purpose of love and keeping each other’s back during wars. Although the setting of the booking mainly revolves around the Vietnam war, O’Brien asserts that the book is not about war or violence but rather peace. This might sound true contradictory statement because war is the main prevalent theme in the book. However, the author’s main objective was to depict the difficulties the soldiers endured.
It is evidently clear that the author merged facts and fiction in order to portray the underlying message which was inspired by true events. It is not quite simple for readers to tell whether the message in the “The Things They Carried” is purely fiction or fact despite the author’s indication on the cover page, “a work of fiction.” The truth about the collection of stories by Tim O’Brien is the fact that the occurrence of the events is a replica of the Vietnam war that the author participated. However, he created fictitious characters in a bid to give the story more meaning.
Participation in the war was fraught with risks, fears, and anxiety. Normally, soldiers are expected to be courageous and determined when representing their country in war. However, O’Brien presents a troop of soldiers whose fear for the war is unmatched. One of the soldiers is so afraid that he carries tranquilizers to the battlefield to assist him in fighting off his fears. The Alpha squad was encompassed of young and energetic young men who seemed overwhelmed with emotional burdens. The fear of death and parents expectations were some of the emotional challenges the team grappled with.
The story that most affected me was the “On The Rainy River.” In this particular story, O’Brien clearly demonstrated all the events that led him into the Vietnam war. It is evident that although he served his country as a military officer, his intentions were to flee the country in order to avoid fighting in the war. However, the confusion between escaping and disappointing his family weighed heavily on him, and ultimately he decided to join the Alpha team.