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The Things They Carried

As someone not overly tolerant of military conflict, in light of the divisive war in Iraq and considering the unpopular nature of the Vietnam War in U.S. society; I decided to choose Tim O'Brien's account of combat in Vietnam in "The Things They Carried." I found outside commentary on this story by searching for reviews and analyses of the work on EBSCO Host, the university research database. I also surveyed the commentaries in The Story and Its Writer to add substance to my own analysis of the story. The most useful sources were the more scholarly ones that came from EBSCO host in journals like Critique and the Explicator.

Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" is an account of O'Brien's drafting into the Vietnam war and the subsequent disillusionment of typical values associated with war (honor, heroism, courage, etc.) O'Brien endures. In this work, O'Brien demonstrates that there were few things that could be "carried" by troops that were reminders of normalcy and home. As he tells us, "The things they carried were largely determined by necessity," (O'Brien, p. 1103). The book demonstrates that in combat normalcy is seldom the norm and the only thing that keeps some individuals from going insane are reminders of normalcy in the most unexpected ways and places.

The commentary of Bobbie Ann Mason (p. 1531) includes her admission that O'Brien's account of combat in Vietnam "knocked me down, just as if a hundred-pound rucksack had been thrown right at me." This commentary does an excellent job of showing the symbolism and meaning behind the things the soldiers "carry" in combat. For they carry necessities like food, water and ammunition but they also carry the horrific memories of combat and the pain of loss and isolation from home. At times, they also carry their dead brethren.

We see in O'Brien's story that some of the men can only maintain and cope if they rely on memories of


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The Things They Carried. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:57, December 08, 2016, from