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The Things They Carried Essay

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Sample Essay on The Things They Carried

The novels’ title brings out the main proposition that surrounds the novel and if one is a critical reader this theme does not escape being noticed. The verb carry literally means one holding or supporting something while in motion. The novels’ title, therefore, is referring to the action of someone gripping or bearing something while moving. Since the novel is all about American soldiers who are fighting the Vietnam War they are, therefore, the ones that are involved in carrying the load. In the novel, one finds various instances in which this is depicted.

In bringing out the main ideas in the novel, the writer uses various literary devices or recurring structures. One significant motif and which he uses quite immensely is the act of storytelling. The novel for one is based on the story as told by O’Brien who is the author. He tells of the adventures he and his colleagues have during the Vietnam War. Stories have been bound in the novel from the beginning right to the end. For example, the novel starts on the basis of a story, most definitely, one recalling a past event, “First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha…” (O’Brien. T., p 1). One with a vivid detail of the past is obviously involved in recollecting the event. Another occurrence includes, “This is one of the story I’ve never (had to tell) before. Not to anyone.” (p 37). This statement is said by O’Brien himself as he recalls his first experience of war. Other characters in the novel have also told stories like the one Mitchell Sanders tells, “A six man patrol goes up into the mountains on a basic listening-post operation…they’ve got a radio along, so if they hear anything suspicious…so after a couple of days the guys start hearing…weird echoes and stuff” (p. 68 and 69). This particular story is useful in that it brings to the surface the role loneliness together with the silence of the jungle have in shaping the soldier’s imaginations making them go overboard and create things far beyond the ordinary. Story telling is also seen to be vital since through it, a reader is able to imagine the occurrences of the past as happening in the present. With it, the writer is able to share with the reader the knowledge he forefronts in the novel, to identify with the feeling that ensues from the novel. To the soldiers, storytelling helps them cope with the reality of war and also assists in communication.

Through storytelling, the main idea in the novel and also the basis for the novel’s title is brought forward. Through it, we get to know why the writer chooses the title, ‘the things they carried.’ The writer lets us on to the meaning of carrying, “to carry something (is) to hump it…but it implied burdens…” (p 3). The things they carried, in the novel, ranges from emotional to the physical. At the very start of the novel, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross has something that he is carrying, “… (carries) letters from a girl named Martha…they (are) not love letters…so he (keeps) them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack” (p 1). Lieutenant Jimmy Cross here carries a physical reminder of a girl he supposedly loves, but who is far away. The physical reminder though bears with it an emotional feeling. “They (are) signed love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross (understands) that love (is) only a way of signing and (does) not mean what he sometimes (pretends) it (means)” (p 1). This means that the letters that Lieutenant Cross carries have an emotional attachment on him; hence, he carries a physical as well as an emotional object.

Other soldiers also carry a physical burden which underscores an emotional burden. The soldiers through necessity have to carry utilities that may assist them when need be. But some of the soldiers go to an extent of carrying insignificant objects but which to them is something more than meets the eye. The necessary things they had to carry included, “p-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wrist watches, dog tags, c rations…together, these items (weigh) between 12 and 18 pounds” (p 2). In addition to the burden already imposed by the necessary things, they have other necessary things, by their own understanding, which is much more valuable to them. For example, “until he (is) shot, Ted Lavender (carries) 6 or 7 ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity…Norman Bowker (carries) comic books…Kiowa (carries) an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father” (p 3).

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