’Brien Essay, Research Paper
What did they carry? Was it just their standard issued gear? Was it relics from
?the world?? Or was it something more sinister? Tim O?Brien explores these
ideas and many more in his heart stopping, breath taking, uniquely sad but true
book, The Things They Carried. O?Brien, a victim of the Vietnam War himself,
shares with us stories that he endured while in the ?Nam. Moreover, I believe that
this book of his was much more than a collection of stories. I believe this book
was not meant to entertain our imagination nor was it written to indulge our fears.
Rather, I believe it was a plea to God himself; an apology to the Almighty for the
horrors and atrocities committed unto his children through the horror and
brutalities of a relentless, and ever bloody war.
O?Brien immediately feeds us insight into the belongings of a grunt.
Everything from P-38?s to stolen soap, to the exact weights of each item. He also
forges ahead with the memories of his comrades, or the lack thereof. He lures
us into a realm that equates to summer camp where the new children are
tormented with the loss of their family, and can only dream about being reunited
with them. This world abruptly changes into a living, breathing, outlandish hell.
At the peak of the many climaxes intwined in the many different stories, I
felt anxious, but often times, I felt uncomfortable. Something didn?t seem right.
Something didn?t add up. I think that the one thing that each character carried,
although it was never formerly introduced, was that sad over-powering emotion
known as guilt.
Mark Fossie felt the bitter end of guilt. Even Rat Kiley felt a guilt that very
few can experience. I shoulder the hunch that Mark Fossie?s guilt lies in bringing
an innocent girl into a hell that took her and fabricating her into a monster. How
content she must have been back in the real world before going to Vietnam. But
?Nam changed the sweet, once innocent beauty into something that cannot be
altered back-a savage. The ?Nam brought our her instinct, if you will, of survival
and savageness. According to the ?Greenies?, they would often find her daring
the impossible, the unimaginable. She proved to those men that sex didn?t
matter, and beastly measures could be taken by anyone. How does Rat Kiley?s
guilt fit in to this equation? Kiley had to set back and watch the distasteful
transfiguration of the beautiful Mary Anne into a inconceivable brute.
O?Brien also carried guilt. O?Brien acquired his guilt near the village of My
Khe. As he states, he didn?t kill the young lad that was pressured into the
struggle for independence. However, since O?Brien was present when the lad
was killed, he claims responsibility. Because he feels responsible, he also feels
very guilty. It?s this guilt of responsibility that seems to have a grasp on O?Brien,
and will not leave him at ease with himself.
More importantly, this book has affected me in a big way. It has altered my
perception of the war in Vietnam for I will never view Vietnam in the same light.
All the war footage cannot compare to what this book has done for me. This
book has made the Vietnam War very real and very alive to me. It has also
enlightened my comprehension of how Vets of the war try to come to grips with
the sad realities of everyday flashbacks.
This book appears to me as one giant thought. O?Brien has compiled
stories that lack the common art of segmenting one idea to another as found in
most popular books. It?s this style of writing that, to me, justifies that it is a big
thought or flashback.
O?Brien continually says that some of the stories are real, some are not.
Some might have added embellishments, some might have missing facts. I think
O?Brien is sincere in his writing, and is therefore excused from any blame if some
truth has been distorted. The place that he described seems like it was in a
parallel universe. How could many of these incidents happen as sporadic as they
I firmly believe that the reason this book has caught my attention and has
left me changed is because of it?s always changing ideas through the stories
always changing yet always connecting. I hear of the GI?s having flashbacks,
seeing events of days now passed manifesting themselves in the present just as
they happened when they previously did happen. It is this idea that concludes
me to believe that this book was just one of the many flashbacks O?Brien has
As I stated before, I think this is his plea to God for forgiveness for the
horrors he seen, and for the abominations he took part in. O?Brien has
mentioned in many different stories the ?man he killed?. He physically didn?t kill
the poor, timid child. He just took part in his death by being there in his country,
on his land. O?Brien?s guilt will not let him forgive himself until he can be forgave.
He holds guilt for not being able to help Kiowa in the *censored* fields (if I
understood him right, he was the one who tried to pull him out of submersion
during the mortar attack) and feels that maybe the reason why Kiowa died was
because O?Brien didn?t save him. He even leaves a sense of guilt about his first
Linda and Tim?s romantic tragedy has no real connection to Vietnam
except Linda was another person that had contact with Tim and left him
prematurely through death. The Things They Carried makes O?Brien out to seem
as if he is sorry for everything-the very existence of the Vietnam War, and the
casualties on both sides of the warfront.
The things they carried was much, much more than M-16?s and C-rations.
It is something that will following them wherever they go, day or night, in this
physical world, or in the much pondered, spiritual world.