In his book, Tim OBrien tells the narrative of the experience that soldiers, including him, went through during the war. The story is told in a captivating manner, and OBrien has an exceptional outline and style of recapturing the moments. Various themes come across in the story, and Tim embraces the ideology of telling the story as it happened to capture the reader's attention and to provide them with a chance to feel the experience of war from first persons perspective. Among other themes, the most captivating concept is when Tim explores the feelings and experience of soldiers at a personal level. The soldiers present with enormous fears and Tim explores how they used physical items object to establish safe attachments and help them calm their fears.
The concept of fear is present from the beginning of the story as soldiers go to war in scenarios that they cant tell what to expect. At one would expect in a war zone, tension is bound to increase, but Tim takes the expectations to a new level (Ruff, John). He explores various instances where different soldiers have been holding on desperately and struggling too much to hide their fears from each other and even form themselves. The title of the book is an expression of these fears. The Things They Carried is a symbolic and a figurative but also literal appeal to express the products of the war that soldiers brought home. The title expresses the fears as later in the story Tim talks about the intense experiences and how people like Dobbins carries small objects -in this case, her girlfriends pantyhose- to manage through the experience.
Fear of succumbing to psychological and emotional burdens
All soldiers carry physical loads, but Tim uses the physical load as a symbol too for expressing the emotional burden that the soldiers dragged along with them. Among other fears is the fear of losing their loved ones. For instance, Jimmy Cross packs a compass and maps as a sign of being responsible for the lives of the men in his crew. The crew deals with the fear of getting lost, or losing their lives and along with it their reputation. Even after the crew is aware that they all experience fears but they have a fear of expressing the fears because they worry that they might lose their focus and yield to more fears, uncertainty and hence succumb to weakness. The team is therefore obliged to maintain a strong front and encourage each other. After the war, soldiers bring home with them disturbing experiences and even after the war ended, the experience would have a significant impact on their lives. The soldiers had lost the version of themselves who left for war and readjusting into the new world or resuming the lives they left behind was quite challenging. The surviving soldiers have to spend the rest of their lives, dealing with guilt, grief, and confusion while attempting to resolve the experiences. Ironically even when they are back home, the soldiers continue to hold on to the physical things in their past and in particular the war experience as a means of survival because they are too afraid and psychologically, unable to let go of the experiences or even develop another life for themselves.
Fear of shame
The need to feel important and accomplished is present in most soldiers. Tim himself expresses these fears in himself when he acts based on the motivation of what his family and friend would think him capable of doing. In one instance Tim says;
They carried the soldiers greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed and died because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment. (The Things They Carried 77)
This kind of fear is a motivation factor for the soldiers, and some characters go to extreme lengths to overcome the fears. Some prefer subjecting their bodies to unexplainable pain to acquire a physical object that helps them calm down and somehow gain some control over the fear. For instance, Curt Lemon decides to pull out a perfectly good tooth because he is determined to overcome the shame of the memory that he painted in the past during his first encounter with the dentists (Chattarji, Subarno 78).
In some instances, the fears work against the teams will and struggle to survive. For Jim Cross, he joined the war because of the trill that his friends were going to fight. At some point, he is responsible for the lives of his crew yet he is in fear and uncertainty. He ends up risking the lives of the soldiers.
OBrien uses the element fear to trust when writing the story itself. In various instances, he conducts the stories of his characters confusing the reader and provoking them to hold subject all the information on the story to criticisms before believing it to be the truth. The book becomes a physical object that Tim holds on to feel at peace and help him deal with the trauma he went through during the war. Perhaps it is the experience of living in this constant state of fear during the war, that makes it so difficult for the team soldiers who made it back home to start new lives (Litz, Brett.).
Fear of losing their identity and culture
When the soldiers go to the abandoned Pagoda that functions as a church, they make various attempt to curb their fears. Dobbin struggles to fight the fear of losing himself and his faith in humanity when he admits that he is not a churchgoer or even religious, but he thinks he might enjoy attending the church if it would have given him a chance to interact with people. After the monks are done cleaning the gun, he receives it and in turn, gives them a can of peaches and chocolate bar. He argues that the least they can do is being nice to them (Ruff, John). He uses the can and chocolate to express his desperate need to hold on to humanity and share life with others and the enormous fear that was might take this away from him. Also, when Kiowa admits that he always carries a bible with him. He argues that it is not because he is very religious but rather was raised up doing it. The bible expresses Kiowas fear of losing his traditions and cultural identity.
The fears that the soldieries face was overwhelming and it was through the small physical objects that they would manage to survive the trauma of war without losing themselves. It is understandable that some soldiers like Dobbin have his girlfriend stockings Kiowa carries a bible and a picture of his ex-girlfriend.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. , 1991. Internet resource
"17. The Things They Carried: Geopolitical Radiation Threats." Strange Glow, 2016.
Chattarji, Subarno. "Imagining Vietnam: Tim OBriens The Things They Carried." The United States and the Legacy of the Vietnam War, 2007, pp. 72-88.
Litz, Brett. "Adaptive Disclosure: A Combat-Specific PTSD Treatment." 2011.
Mahajani, Yash. "Tim OBrien, If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home and The Things They Carried." Peace Review, vol. 27, no. 2, 2015, pp. 252-255.
Ruff, John. "The Good News (and Whos Listening) in Tim OBriens The Things They Carried." Expositions, vol. 3, no. 2, 2010.
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