The Things They Carried The Power Of

Motivity Essay, Research Paper

How does death affect the behavior of people? Although death affects everyone?s

behavior differently, knowledge of one?s imminent death is a main force behind behavioral

changes. This knowledge causes emotions that motivate people to look for changes, that

make them have to adjust. It makes them find different ways to cope with war. This is the

reason that causes the characters in a book called, The Things They Carried, by Tim

O?Brien to have to change due to their situation. They are in the Vietnam war and the

horror of death is always hanging over their heads. They have to find ways to cope with

that incomparable fright. Their knowledge of death and its closeness causes the men in the

story to alter their behavior by modifying emotions to relieve guilt, by exhibiting different

actions to ease anxiety, and for some by just losing humanity thoroughly to excuse their


Guilt is a very strong emotion, and it demands adjustment very rapidly. Guilt

makes a person regret how they ignored their values, and ideas, and the demand for

adjustment comes from wanting to not repeat the misjudgment of their actions. Some try

to substitute the guilt with other emotions, for example, some make jokes. Azar, for

instance made fun of a little girl whose whole family had just died, ?…, Azar mocked the

girl?s dancing. He did funny jumps and spins. He put his palms of his hands against his

ears, and danced sideways for a while, and then backwards, and then did an erotic thing

with his hips?(pg.136). For him, the situation grows lighter with laughter. Even though he

knows nothing is funny about the situation, he trys to replace the guilt with humor. He

even went as far as to make fun of someone?s death, ? ? A classic case,? Azar was saying.

? Biting the dirt, so to speak, that tells the story.? ? ( pg.168). He makes jokes, he knows

its not funny, but he makes jokes. He makes jokes not for others, but for himself. He trys

to amuse himself so he wouldn?t have to ponder about guilt, he wouldn?t have to think

about blaming himself for anything. The guilt that they all felt altered the way they acted.

Azar wouldn?t have ever laughed at someone?s death normally, but the guilt of the

situation that he felt altered his actions. And these kind of strange reactions to normally

tragic or tense situations are a way to ease the feeling of guilt, therefore creating a way for

them to cope with death.

Anxiety about death follows the men everywhere they go and they have many

ways to disguise their fear, and many ways to defend against it. The men were ready for

everything in the war: they had their radio to call in help, their guns to defend against

enemies, and their pride and dignity to disguise fear. Disguising fear is very hard because it

is such a strong emotion. Great fear is impossible to hide as evident by the actions of the

men when they were involved in the intense fights, they would say , ?… Dear Jesus, and

flop around on the earth and fire their weapons blindly, and cringe and sob and beg for the

noise to stop.? (pg.12)When it was all over, they would get up, dust themselves off, and

try to smile and show their dignity and strength. Their strength in these situations was lost

for the time, but because of the anxiety they wanted to change their actual behavior to

appear unafraid and ready for more. This type of action was done all the time by the men,

they weren?t being cruel, they were just hiding their fears, O?Brien says, ? They were

afraid of dying, but they were even more afraid to show it.?(pg.45) This change in their

behavior is a disguise of fear, but it is also a defense against it. The men had many

defenses against fear including joking, being cruel, carrying guns, and killing other people.

The men were most likely not cruel individuals, but to defend against fear they had to

remove compassion for people, actions, and themselves. In order to handle the war, the

men had to ease the anxiety of death, they had to feature certain actions to do that.

The violent nature that the soldiers acquire during their tour in Vietnam is also an

example of the way they dealt with the horrors. They just turned evil, they didn?t care, and

if they don?t care, they can?t worry. One of the soldiers, ? Norman Bowler, otherwise, a

very gentle person, carried a Thumb…The Thumb was dark brown, rubbery to touch…It

had been cut from a VC corpse, a boy of fifteen of sixteen.?(pg.82) Bowler had been a

very good-natured person in civilian life, yet the war makes him into a very

hard-mannered, emotionally devoid soldier, carrying about a severed finger as a trophy,

proud of his kill. The transformation shown through Bowler is an excellent indicator of the

psychological and emotional change that most of the soldiers have to undergo in order to

tolerate the panic of war. Sometimes the changes are even more drastic. A soldier named,

? Ted Lavender adopted an orphaned puppy…Azar strapped it to a Claymore

antipersonnel mine and squeezed the firing device.?(pg102) Azar had gone to far in his

attempt to defeat the great power of war; to kill a puppy that someone else has adopted is

horrible. However, these men had to make violence the norm of their behavior in order to

even survive in the situation. Another example can be that in the buffalo story, ? We came

across a baby water buffalo…After supper Rat Kiley went over and stroked its nose…He

stepped back and shot it through the right front knee…He shot it twice in the flanks. It

wasn?t to kill, it was to hurt.?(pg.22) It would seem that Rat displays a severe emotional

problem here; however, it is still the norm. The startling degree of detached emotion for

these men is inherent in the war. They had to lose all emotion they had. They don?t have

to worry about keeping their emotions, and living up to their values if they don?t have any.

The loss of sensitivity and the increase of violent behavior among these soldiers is

common in O?Brien?s book. They lose all emotion, sensitivity, all humanity in total. They

just didn?t care, and thats the way they dealt with it, they just didn?t care.

The reason that the men changed in the war is because they had to. They couldn?t

survive in the war if they had stayed the way they were before the war. The horrible dread

of war demands change, it has the power to change a person dramatically. And everybody

changes differently. Some see it as dealing with the guilt, some see it as dealing with the

anxiety, and some think of it as plainly losing all emotion and turning into demon. The men

changing is a main reason due to the fear, and anxiety, but there are other reasons why

people change as well. Taking order is another way a man can change, and deal with the

war. They did anything they had to, and they had an excuse for it. They were following the

unwritten orders of the war. Why did you kill the buffalo? Why did you kill the puppy?

Why did you cut the Thumb of the little boy? Why were you so insensitive? Why did you

make fun of the little girl? They had only one thing to say, only one thing…, ? I was just

following orders.?





American Lit.

Essay on The Things they carried.


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