The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien is a very gifted author, but he is also a veteran of the Vietnam War and fought with the United States in that controversial war. Tim O’Brien was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1968. He served as an infantryman, and obtained the rank of sergeant and won a Purple Heart after being wounded by shrapnel. He was discharged from the Vietnam War in 1970. I believe that O’Brien’s own images and past experiences he encountered in the Vietnam War gave him inspiration to write the story “The Things They Carried. ” O’Brien tells the story in third person narrative form about Lt.

Jimmy Cross and his platoon of young American men in the Vietnam War. In “The Things They Carried” we can see differences and similarities between the characters by the things they hold close to them. In this critical review I would like to critique Tim O’Brien’s characterization. O’Brien’s expression towards each character is very unique because not one of them is exactly alike. They all differ in age and ethnicity, and have different views on the Vietnam War. They bear the weight of their country on their backs, but they also have different emotions weighing on their hearts. The Things We Carried” takes in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and his platoon are in the fields of Vietnam. His platoon includes: Mitchell Sanders (Radio Telephone Operator), Rat Kiley (Medic), Henry Dobbins (Machine Gunner), Kiowa, Norman Bowker, Ted Lavender, Dave Jensen, Lee Strunk, and a few other soldiers that O’Brien doesn’t name in the story. The platoon would follow Lieutenant Jimmy Cross across the hills, valleys, swamps, rivers, mountains, and everything else you could imagine. Each soldier carried at least twenty pounds of supplies, weapons, and rations on their backs.

They would walk all day, and all night. They didn’t even know where they were going or where they would stop. The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Tim O’Brien writes “Some of the necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, C rations and two or three canteens of water. By necessity, and because it was standard operating procedure they all carried steel helmets that weighed five pounds. On their feet they carried jungle boots, which weighed two pounds.

They also carried a steel-centered nylon covered flak jacket which weighed seven pounds” (O’Brien 266). Besides the three standard weapons- the M-60, M-16, and M-79, they carried whatever they thought appropriate. The men would sometimes discard ammunition during the day along the trail to lighten their weight. They did this because the choppers would be coming the next morning to give them more ammo. They often smoked dope together and picked fun at one another during the evening to pass the time. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross wasn’t all there when leading the troops through the day and night.

A girl named Martha had his heart, and was living in New Jersey. She wrote him letters and Jimmy daydreamed all day about her. He was so in love with Martha that his mind was not even remotely thinking about his platoon and the war. The platoon marched through villages and sometimes they burned them down and sometimes they didn’t. They didn’t know who they were looking for in the villages, and why they burned some but not others. It was as if their legs were machines and they had been programmed to keep marching. The platoon was instructed to carry out many missions, including occasional ambush and night missions.

Every soldier was different when it came to what they brought on the night missions. Some would bring starlight scopes, others vitamins high in beta-carotene for better night vision. Tim O’Brien writes “In mid April, the platoon was instructed to destroy the enemies elaborate tunnel system. They were instructed to search the tunnels before they destroyed them by detonating an explosion device such as a mine. Lee Strunk was the lucky one chosen to search a particular tunnel” (O’Brien 271). While waiting for Lee to return out of the tunnel, Ted Lavender stepped away from the platoon to urinate and was shot in the head.

Kiowa saw the whole thing and said Ted just fell down like cement and that was the end of it. That night Lieutenant Jimmy Cross was so upset about Ted Lavender that he dug a hole in the ground and cried all night. He hated Martha now because if he had not been so love struck, he would have made sure everyone took the greatest of safety precautions, and possibly could have prevented Ted Lavender’s death. He made up his mind that he wasn’t going to think about her anymore and he finally accepted the fact that Martha didn’t love him, and there was no chance of them ever fulfilling his dreams.

He was going to make the platoon throw away their dope, and stop discarding ammunition. He might not be liked as much because of how strict he was to become, but he reminded himself that his obligation was not to be loved but to lead. Tim O’Brien writes “Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from the girl named Martha. They were not love letters, but he was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack” (O’Brien 266). Jimmy also carries two photos of Martha that she gave him. One of them is of her playing volleyball, and the second photo is her standing against a wall.

Martha signed them with love, but Jimmy knew she didn’t mean what he was dreaming of. He pretended that they were in love, and having romantic camping trips in the white mountains. Jimmy loves her so much he is totally removed from the war mentally. Martha sends him a pebble she finds on the beach as a good luck charm. Jimmy Cross carries the pebble under his tongue. Its presence distracts him from his duties. Martha wrote that the pebble symbolized her feelings toward him, since she found it on the shore, right where things come together and also separate. He loves her even though he really doesn’t understand what she means.

The expression and feelings Tim O’Brien gives Jimmy toward Martha are very unique. I believe it is unbelievable how in the midst of all the danger and seriousness surrounding him in Vietnam, he is not totally there mentally. A part of his heart and mind is in New Jersey with Martha. He realizes that he is potentially going to get killed by the lack of caution he is using, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care until Ted Lavender gets killed. So quick, within two seconds after the bullet struck Ted in the head, he was lying on the ground dead. This awakened Jimmy’s survival instincts, and his very sad, he thought.

The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do” (O’Brien 279). Jimmy blames himself for Ted Lavenders death, and gets rid of his fantasies about Martha. Jimmy realizes reality that Martha doesn’t love him and never will. Tim O’Brien writes, “Ted Lavender was very scared while he was in Vietnam, he carried tranquilizers and six or seven ounces of premium dope until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April” (O’Brien 266). Ted Lavender is expressed through O’Brien as a young man who is in over his head with this war.

Ted is scared and nervous all the time, and his only break from this burden is to take tranquilizers or smoke dope. I believe O’Brien is not only describing Lavender but most of the young men in the Vietnam War. A lot of the soldiers were young men in their teens and early twenties with the rest of their lives ahead of them. They were not emotionally ready for what was going on around them. It was a shame that so many young men had to endure this type of situation. Tim O’Brien also writes “Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an Illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father.

As a hedge against bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother’s distrust of the white man, his grandfather’s old hunting hatchet” (O’Brien 267). Kiowa is an American Indian and a devout Baptist. The other soldiers tease him about these things often, but Kiowa does not respond. Through O’Brien’s expressions about Kiowa, I believe he is kind to everyone and tries to have appropriate reactions to the war. Kiowa wants to feel bad about Ted Lavender’s death since he witnessed it. When Jimmy is crying in his foxhole the night Ted was killed, Kiowa tries to cry himself.

Kiowa cannot cry and all he can think about is that he is alive. He is not dead, and how good it feels to be alive. I feel Kiowa is carrying a heavy burden on his heart being away from his family, and defending a country that his relatives don’t trust. He remains true to his family by reading his bible and caring for his brothers in war. All the characters in “The Things They Carried” carried different things that meant the world to them. All of the soldiers were terrified of death and were even more scared to show it. They joked after each enemy bombing that they almost peed their pants and such.

They really almost did each enemy encounter, and they all knew it. They would turn into a young man and fear for their life, and ask god to please take them far away from this horrible place, but when the firing stop they would stand up and turn into soldiers again. All of these young men carried the emotional baggage of men who might die. They all carried thoughts of grief, terror, love, and longing. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardness. These young soldiers killed, and they died, all because they were embarrassed not to.