The Themes of The Things They Carried
There are many themes in The Things They Carried. The most commonly seen themes in this book are that of physical and emotional burdens. Other themes include truth in storytelling and the constant fear of shamefulness in a soldier. The Things They Carried is a novel about Tim O??™Brien??™s experiences in the Vietnam War. At the beginning of the book we are told of all the equipment and weapons that they physically carried around with them. By the end of the book we understand the things they emotionally carry and deal with every day for the rest of their lives.
There are many things that the men carried every day in Vietnam. Some of these items include a flak jacket, boots, a helmet, rations, multiple canteens of water, and a various set of tools. Depending on what their individual role as a soldier was they carried different weapons, such as the M-16 assault rifle, the M-60 machine gun, or an M-79 grenade launcher. These weapons ranged from 8.2 pounds to 23 pounds. ???Mitchell Sanders carried the PRC-25 radio, a killer, 26 pounds with its battery??? (O??™Brien 5). Mitchell had a specific job as an RTO (Radio Transmitter Operator). He was the only man in his squad with this item. All of this heavy equipment was a huge physical challenge for these men.
The things the men carried emotionally were heavier than their weapons and equipment. O??™Brien witnessed a lot of gruesome deaths during the war, some of which were his friends. Ted Lavender is the first man from their squad to die. On his way back from the bathroom he was shot in the head. Lavender??™s superior, Jimmy Cross, carried the blame of Lavender??™s death for the rest of his life. The death of O??™Brien??™s friend Kiowa affected him the most. Kiowa died when a mortar round hit near him and caused him to fall head first through soft ground. O??™Brien felt guilty and responsible for his friend??™s death. O??™Brian is later burdened with more guilt after he killed a young and unsuspecting Vietnamese soldier with a grenade. He dwelled upon his actions. O??™Brien figured the man was born in 1946 and that his parents were farmers. He also figured that the man did not have a political opinion and that he was fighting because he just wanted the Americans to leave his country. These emotional burdens continued to shape and reflect the lives of these soldiers, even long after the war was over.
Tim O??™Brien says that a true war story is not believable. This is because war is such an awful experience that some parts in war stories are just not believable. ???By telling stories??¦You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others??? (O??™Brien 158). This quote is from the chapter ???Notes???. In this chapter he talks about how telling the stories of his combat experiences helps him cope with the pain and the guilt left over from the war. By telling his stories he is able to separate himself from them, making them seem as if he was not actually a part of them. O??™Brian also believes that in order to tell a good war story that the truths must be bent to a certain extent. In war stories it is more important to him that the reader feels and understands the emotional impact of a story, even at the expense of true factual based evidence.
Another constant worry among the soldiers is how they appear in and out of combat to their comrades. Most of the men would rather die in battle rather than living and looking like a coward. Some men would purposefully shoot their own fingers or toes off for an easy way out of the war. ???P***ies they??™d say. Candy-asses. It was fierce, mocking talk, with only a trace of envy or awe??¦??? (O??™Brien 22). These men made fun of the other men who injured themselves so that they appear to be strong and courageous, even though they too would like a free ticket home. The fear of appearing to be a coward was an enemy in itself to the men in Vietnam.
Emotional and physical burdens, shame, and storytelling all had huge effects on the soldiers in this book. It has shaped them and made them who they are. Although they left their equipment at the end of the war, they will continue to carry their memories to the grave.
The Themes of The Things They Carried