In the book “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien the central idea is that memory is the heaviest burden to carry. Throughout the book the characters carry physical items and invisible burdens. The most important burden of them all is remembering, or carrying the memories of war with them. A lot of characters die in the war, but even though they are dead, their memory lives on with the soldiers who survived. All their traumas, experiences, and lessons will never be forgotten. All of these aspects will haunt them and they will never regain the innocence they once had.
On a close analysis of the first chapter, “The Things They Carried” illustrates the weight of not only the physical items they carried, but the emotional baggage as well. Throughout this chapter the items are constantly referred to, thus revealing the character’s tendencies and problems. It also provides the readers with why the things they carried were so important. Above everything they carry, the most important is how they carry each other or how they will one another to keep moving forward. War comes with many aspects such as materials, human beings, death, and emotions. In this chapter the readers are introduced to the characters, all members of the platoon, and are also introduced to the idea of always carrying something, “ They would never be at a loss for things to carry,”. Carrying represents many things such as, items like guns, grenades, ammunition, or emotional baggage, “They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die,”. Everything they carried had some type of effect and meaning to each character. For example JImmy Cross had his hope that one day Martha and him would be together. This allowed him to keep pushing forward. Another example is Ted Lavender. Ted carried drugs like dope and tranquilizers to distract him from his fear of dying. Although the weight of everything tired each one of them, they enjoyed it because all that fatigue and pain meant that they were still alive, “He enjoyed being alive,”. One of the greatest and most important things they carry is each other. “They shared the weight of memory,” which presents the most important idea that even though some of the characters die, they won’t stop appearing throughout the book because their memory lives on.
As Tim mentions in the chapter “Notes” his writings are a form of therapy. By writing down the events that occured he is separating the event from himself. This reveals that each war story is based off a memory from war. His writings allow him to cope with all of the events that keep replaying in his mind. As Catherine Calloway explains the soldiers carry, “ memories, reputations, and personal histories. In addition, the reader soon learns, the soldiers also carry stories,” which comes from their war experiences. However, Catherine soon reveals that these stories lack validity, “Still other stories are told as if true accounts, only for their validity to be immediately questioned or denied.” The fact that the stories were unending, shows that they carry all memories or events of the war.
One of the main issues in the book, is the emotions that are included in the war stories. For example, Jimmy is in love, but his love is to the point where it is obsessive. Would Jimmy Cross still be as obsessed or in love with Martha if there weren’t any ambiguities regarding their past? A lot of Jimmy’s memories of Martha seem to have a lot of regret and sometimes he even wonders what he means to her, “They were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant,”. If Jimmy didn’t have so many questions and regrets regarding their relationship, I believe he wouldn’t have been so tunnel visioned. Jimmy thought that if he would have, “done something brave,” maybe things would be different with Martha. Jimmy’s fixation with Martha is based on what ifs and regrets. I believe that if everything were to be made clear to him then his love would not have been obsessive.
Overall “The Things They Carry” introduces the characters and also displays the main idea of the burdens, soldiers at war have to carry. It can vary from emotional baggage to physical items that give the soldiers support to keep them moving forward. The tone was a mixture of despair and optimism because of the constant death roaming around, and the fact none of them were there willingly, but at least they are still alive. Also for those who did pass away in the war, their story will not be forgotten. The people who lived and survived will all carry their memory and will continue to share it. In the end the one thing they will always have is something to carry.
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