Academic Master


The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The selected piece of fiction is a short story collection composed by an American novelist, Tim O’Brien. It centers on a platoon of American soldiers who were in Vietnam fighting the war. The short story collection mainly focuses on the soldiers’ experiences and what they think of war while stationed in a foreign land. O’Brien wanted his readers to glimpse the character’s psyche while they were off fighting a war in Vietnam. The young soldier’s views on life and death had changed the moment they were faced with the brutalities of war. The title of the short story collection is significant as it refers to the things the soldiers kept close to themselves. The things they carried reflect each soldier’s attachment to the things they think are important to keep close at all times.

The stories have been narrated by a character named Tim O’Brien, who resembles the author’s name. The short story The Things They Carried, among the other stories, specifically focuses on the emotional attachment of the soldiers to material things. The story focuses on Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and his feelings for his lover, Martha. Cross keeps reminiscing about the moments he spent with Martha throughout the story. He had only gone on one date with Martha, and when he tried to get intimate with her, she rejected his advances, which saddened Cross. Now that Cross was in Vietnam and troubled by the war, he wanted to feel Martha’s touch again. He wanted to hold her and express his love to Martha, knowing she did not feel the same way about him. The other soldiers carried different things such as ammunition, guns, bible, morphine, and so on and so forth. Each item signifies what the soldier feels closer to in times of war. A soldier dies near the end of the story making Cross guilty more than ever. He burns Martha’s letters and pictures and acquires a new mindset, which makes the soldiers grumpy because Cross makes them march in the heat.

There is no doubt that war changes people differently. Some people are traumatized for the rest of their lives while others find a new purpose in life. If the character of Jimmy Cross is to be analyzed regarding the impact of war, it is evident that he changes dramatically over the course of the short story. When the narrative begins, the readers see Cross being sad over Martha not reciprocating his feelings. He keeps Martha’s letters in his bag along with her pictures and wishes to go home and hold her. While the need to feel Martha’s touch is intense, Cross knows Martha might not accept him. He continues to dream of every moment he will return home and next to his beloved. The letters that Cross carries contain poems by Martha that have nothing to do with war, which shows that she wasn’t interested in Cross’s war experiences. Despite her ignorance, Cross hopes things will change when he returns home.

When the readers first see Cross, he does not think about the war or his platoon because he is too busy thinking about his classmate, Martha. The author has depicted him as an immature guy who does not know how to take responsibility for things. He signed up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps only because it would benefit him by giving him extra credit and also because his friends were also going. He shows no interest in being a team leader, and when led to battle, Cross doesn’t know how to handle things and be in charge of the men who are under his command. Cross’s mind hadn’t wrapped around the idea of war or the consequences of being irresponsible till the death of Lavender occurred.

He pictured Martha’s smooth young face, thinking he loved her more than anything, more than his men, and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much…”  (O’Brien)

Cross knows that his love for Martha is more than anything, and nothing can stop him from thinking about her, but the guilt intensifies when Lavender dies. He is shown to be guilty of the death of every squad member who dies, but this guilt doesn’t last long as he is absorbed in the thoughts of Martha. The following lines are an example of Cross’s love for Martha,

“…he tried to concentrate on Lee Strunk and the war, all the dangers, but his love was too much for him, he felt paralyzed, he wanted to sleep inside her lungs and breathe her blood and be smothered.” (O’Brien)

The only death that impacts Cross is that of Lavender. At that moment, he realizes that he needs to move on and focus on the things that are more important than some woman back home who doesn’t even love him. A drastic change is seen in Cross as he realizes his role as a leader. He almost becomes a Christ-like figure as he is shown to suffer intensely when his team members are wounded or die on the battlefield. Like Christ, Cross takes on the role of a leader and feels responsible for everyone who follows him to the battlefield. He bears the grief of Lavender’s death, unlike Kiowa who cannot mourn. In conclusion, it can be said that the character of Cross was positively impacted by the Vietnam War. Though every soldier indeed sees the experience differently, for Cross, it made him realize his responsibility. It changed his attitude towards war and the lives that were at stake under his command. He sacrificed his love for his men and assumed the role of a leader. Instead of being crippled by the death of his teammates, Cross attains a different mindset that allows him to think clearly.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.



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