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The Things They Carried

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Amy Xu

on 29 June 2013

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Transcript of The Things They Carried

Contemporary Literature Analysis
THE THINGS THEY CARRIED
TIM O'BRIEN
SUMMARY
War Stories
O'Brien claims that the bad memories live on forever and "writing about what one remembers is a means of coping with those things one can't forget". When he received his draft letter, he fled but chose to return home and go to war after having an epiphany. He uses anecdotes to show how the soldiers were sometimes friends and sometimes enemies, demonstrating the prevalent superstitions and anxieties. While in Vietnam, the men attempt to hold onto civilization in the form of a church and a young girl who fostered hope. Key events he reflects on include the time he killed a man using a hand grenade, which still haunts him, and the drowning of Kiowa, his best friend.
Reflections
O'Brien kept in touch with the men in his unit following the war. When Jimmy Cross pays him a visit, they reflect on Cross's love, Martha, and how the two parted ways. He and Norman Bowker communicated through letters to help each other through the post-war trauma. For his daughter's birthday, he takes her to the site of Kiowa's death, the Song Tra Bong, and reminisces on that night. The story ends with O'Brien providing a recollection of his childhood, prominently featuring a character named Linda who is based on his childhood sweetheart who died young from cancer. He ends the novel imagining a perfect world where those who had died were alive and well, saying "it is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story".
ANALYSIS
How does it reflect our recent history and our values?
It reflects the values of the time through showing the popular opposition to the war and the effect that it had on the soldiers.
It relates to our current values because it exemplifies the power of storytelling, which has a big impact on our society today
The most predominant example is first-hand accounts during war times, which are greatly important to America's journalistic tradition
What does our contemporary literature say about our culture?
This work of contemporary literature focuses more on how war and materialism affect our society in a negative manner.
People's desire, greed, and lack of empathy, which are seen to be a cause of war, get in the way of human potential and happiness and come at the expense of human emotion.
This work, like many others of contemporary literature, causes us to question our values as a society
How does character development
illustrate societal issues?
Jimmy Cross
signed up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps, not expecting to be drafted
had no desire to be a leader, unsure of his actions
unconcerned with the war, mostly concerned with Martha, which killed Lavender
had to live with the guilt of the results of his desire and realizes that he must start leading his troops
has to sacrifice his feelings for Martha so his men can be safe
This is relevant to our society today because modern soldiers experience the same decisions and dilemmas.
Tim O'Brien
Wants to dodge the draft
Decides against this because of honor, and to avoid shaming his family
This change of mind shows the effects and importance of self-worth and honor in our society.
Kiowa
starts out deeply Christian
while he never really loses his faith, he starts to rationalize the killing and the actions of his fellow soldiers which readers can see are un-Christian
His transition to justification of wartime atrocities shows the strain that war can have on personal beliefs and faith, as well as on one's principles.
What themes are predominant?
Dehumanizing Aspect of War
Jimmy Cross has to give up his love in order to be a good soldier and leader
Men kill and are killed with little regard for the sanctity of life
They are forced to forget and think very little about all of their friends who are killed out of need for their own survival
“War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.”
Guilt
the guilt that Jimmy Cross carries is due to simple human nature - love is normal, but it causes deep-seated guilt in times of war, as in Cross's case
Cross also holds himself accountable for the deaths of his men that could have been prevented, particularly Kiowa's
Tim O'Brien feels intense guilt over the man he killed during the war, largely influencing the story
“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight."
Emotion and Duty
Tim O'Brien feels a duty to recount the story, to which there is an emotional component, because he doesn't want the story of his friends to be forgotten
Jimmy Cross experiences a conflict between love and duty, letting duty win
“The presence of danger has a way of making you feel fully awake.”
What might the literature indicate about our future?
It indicates, or at least the author hopes, that the post-war society will be less predisposed to send people to war
O'Brien indicates that in the future, people will remember the devastating Vietnam War and learn from it
He says "stories are for joining the past to the future," and he hopes the future will learn from the mistakes made in the Vietnam War, which are recounted in the stories this novel
How does the book indicate ideals about our future through character development?
many of the major characters in this novel displayed a certain dynamic human emotion, whether it be guilt, self-worth, etc.
everything ties back to O'Brien's purpose of wanting to eradicate war
O'Brien's displaying of firsthand accounts through the characters and showing of the changes they undergo display the effects of war, tying back to demonstrating the atrocity that is war
How does the book indicate the author's viewpoint about our future through setting?
Vietnam still has an extreme impact on American society today
hypothetically, the Vietnam War was the first war that America had ever lost after fighting for 9 years with no "actual" purpose of fighting
because of the loss, America has been trying to expand and reform the military to this day
the time period and location have an impact on O'Brien's perception of the future because we can see the impact of being in an active war zone
“The bad stuff never stops happening: it lives in its own dimension, repaying itself over and over.”
How does the book indicate ideals about our future through plot?
O'Brien says the point of storytelling is to deliver the past to the future, to give perspective
the stories told in the book are delivered to the future, and the perspective they give is of the horrors of war and the long-lasting negative effects
the perspective will likely influence future generations about war and indicates that O'Brien hopes our future is more peaceful
How does the book foreshadow our future through theme?
This novel exemplifies the common themes of contemporary literature, such as the necessity of self worth, and the conflict between human emotion and duty
O'Brien is trying to show readers the detrimental effects of war as seen through the gradual deterioration of the major characters
How does the book indicate ideals about our future through language?
the language is straightforward and brusque, not at all the romantic language that has sometimes been associated with war
this shows the idea, which has become a part of our culture, that war is something that suppresses the ability of people to have deep feelings and empathy
this is a drastic change from the past, and the author thinks that this belief will be larger in the future - that the war is something negative not fantastic
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
O'Brien descriptively shows through his different anecdotes the emotional effects war can have on a soldier. Do you feel that soldiers can be expected to put aside human emotions in war? Should they be?

Is it fair for soldiers to be drafted to fight for an ideology, as opposed to a threat to the nation, as in the cases of the Korean and Vietnam Wars?
Memorable Quotes
Shamik Maganlal. Preea Mazumder. Jennifer Nguyen. Amy Xu.
Full transcript