The Things They Carried - Tim O'brien

Essay by garysgUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, November 2004

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Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" presents the central idea that amongst society, it is normal to react to atypical situations in an atypical way. Jimmy Cross, O'Brien's protagonist, was developed to exemplify this atypical reaction. Cross allows the reader to believe and appreciate "the things they carried" as well as creating an extended metaphor.

O'Brien begins his work describing the care that Lieutenant Cross has for the letters he carries from a girl named Martha, from back home. O'Brien writes, "In the late afternoon, after a day's march he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending." (960) O'Brien also mentions that Cross-would "sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there." (960) O'Brien assigns the most importance to Cross by opening the story with this aspect of his personal life.

This insight is commonly referred to in the story to corroborate the importance and mirror the severity of what the other men are dealing with. It is important to O'Brien that the reader understand that all of these men who are fighting in the Vietnam War lead a life with their platoon within their role as soldiers, but also the reader needs to be reminded that all of these men have lives back home, whether it be with their parents, wives, children, or girlfriends, a life was left to be led without them. This introduction is vital to the piece because it develops the theme and allows O'Brien to use it as a foundation, building upon the things men carry from one specific situation.

The plethora of personal possessions that these men carry acts as an extended metaphor. It is human nature for...