Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is not only a novel about the Vietnam War and the tragedies that befell the soldiers, but a in depth dive into the experiences and emotions that are brought on by the perils of war and the power of humans to overcome these traumas and prevail. O’Brien is able to make statements about the calamity of war through powerful characters. The author The pain and suffering those soldiers must endure during these wars and the fear of death that comes with it. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried highlights the overwhelming power of how human emotions affect people.
War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead. (80) This passage in the story very strongly shows the realism of war and how the soldiers felt about being a part of it. Most soldiers weren’t even old enough to drink alcohol, young people in their twenties that hadn’t experienced life to the fullest, but were sent out to an unknown country to fight a war with only the feelings of fear and confusion by their side. Fear was one of the strongest emotions that all soldiers carried throughout the novel. Every soldier that takes part in the horrors of war carried this emotion. In a blog by Jeffrey Michael Bryant called The Next Level of Being Bryant rates fear as the worst people emotion that humans have. Many other negative emotions tend to stem from fear, which is why Bryant believes that fear is the most devastating emotion to someone’s psyche. Soldiers during was experienced fear every second of their life during the war and even away from it. It is one of the things they carried. Obrien’s character at one point exclaims I sometimes felt the fear spreading inside me like weeds. I imagined myself dead. I imagined myself doing things I could not do”charging an enemy position, taking aim at another human being (O’Brien 42). This passage was taken when O’Brien was drafted to go to Vietnam, he experienced the fear that all soldiers leaving their country do imagining what he would have to do to survive and even if he would survive. Fear is a driving point in all humans and stems out to many other emotions these deep crippling emotions were one of many things that soldiers during war must carry. The raw unrelenting fear leaves an imprint on soldiers that are so vile that many are unable to recover even after leaving the warzone, all of this fear had to be carried by all soldiers during the Vietnam war.
Another emotion carried by soldiers during the Vietnam War was pain, one of the most incapacitating emotions that human being experience. Pain was brought upon in many ways during the war. It was both a physical and psychological pain that people were put through during the war. Most men during the war carried things that were of sentimental value such as the heavy machine gunner Henry Dobbins carrying his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck or the religious Kiowa carrying the New Testament, a gift from his father; but many men were common low-ranking soldiers that carried the standard m-16 assault rifle and several magazines of ammunition. The weight of the weapons they carried put a strain on their bodies that would trigger physical pain that as well as the psychological pain of having to carry weapons to survive and to kill order to do so. The pain of friends dying besides them was a common pain soldiers endured, a pain that in many cases would never leave the soldiers. This is seen in the novel when Tim talks about his fellow soldiers Curt Lemon and Kiowa. I’m forty-three years old, and a writer now, and the war has been over for a long while. Much of it is hard to remember. I sit at this typewriter and stare through my words and watch Kiowa sinking into the deep muck of a shit field, or Curt Lemon hanging in pieces from a tree, and as I write about these things, the remembering is turned into a kind of rehappening. Kiowa yells at me. Curt Lemon steps from the shade into bright sunlight, his face brown and shining, and then he soars into a tree. The bad stuff never stops happening: it lives in its own dimension, replaying itself over and over. (O’Brien 31) This passage explains the tremendous pain of losing a friend on the battlefield especially when they are supposed to protect on another and sometimes cant. O`Brien is able to capture the realism of pain that soldiers experience in war and how difficult it is to overcome the trauma that war induced on many soldiers during their time in Vietnam.
Many people during war suffer loss, and many soldiers during the Vietnam War were unable to avoid the devastating emotion of loss. Many soldiers during the war carried pictures or mementos of loved ones to get them through the difficult days of war. Almost every soldier carried something to connect them to home. Some brought items that could be described as silly or random to remind them of their home. In the book What Happened in Name Hynes describes soldiers bringing things to remind them of their civilian lives. They brought their civilian tastes and habits with them-their radios, their tapes, their paperbacks, and their comic books-and what they didn’t have the army provided (Hynes 184). Soldiers carried items from home to remind them of simpler times and give them strength even in the perils of war. These items are a reminder that they are not home with the people they love and this reminder turns into a sense of loss, the loss of time that may cause soldiers to become depressed and homesick. The loss of friends on the battlefield was common and scarred many soldiers. The death of a close friend whom they couldn’t protect was carried around with the soldier even after they left. The feeling of loss can warp a soldiers mind into believing that they could have done something different. Soldiers would feel disgusted at themselves for not being able to protect their friends, this loss would bring the soldiers back into the reality of war.
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