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Impressions #2 on O'Brien's The Things They Carried

18 July 2007

Standard Operating Procedure

During wartime people endure almost unimaginable horrors. Soldiers must find methods of dealing with the heavy burden of fear, guilt, and anguish associated with war. In Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried the story of one particular Army squad in Vietnam is used to illustrate some of the tactics soldiers use. The structure of the story further emphasizes the point. Through use of repetition the reader sees very quickly that though the objects "were largely determined by necessity,"(O'Brien 99) what these young men carry is a lot more than material. The reiteration of Lavender's death several times throughout the story emphasizes the impact that it has had on the stories main character, Jimmy Cross. The story bounces back and forth between wartime events and emotional reflection, particularly with Cross, and his fantasies involving Martha.

This plot movement must mimic the soldiers' own internal struggle to deal with repeated reminders of the severity of their situation, bobbing back and forth between memories of comfort and home and the death and destruction in Vietnam. The weight of the killing, constant fear of dying, and disconnection from the world outside of war is a heavy burden and through objects like Cross's tokens from Martha, Kiowa's illustrated bible, Rat Kiley's comic books, even Lavender's dope and extra ammo, the men were able to relieve themselves of this emotional burden for a short time, and so worth the extra effort to carry.

The effect of Lavender's death of Jimmy Cross becomes a key point in the plot. While most of the outfit are able to effectively complete their tasks as soldiers, and still allow themselves time for distraction with their personal items, Cross is unable to detach himself from his obsession with Martha. His position as Lieutenant suffers and he carries the weight of Lavender's death on his conscience. He determines that in order to be a good soldier and leader he must shed all sentimental attachment to the outside world and function strictly as an enforcer without feeling or connection with the other soldiers, which adds to the tragedy of the tale because the reader becomes aware that the war has completely changed Cross and that he may never recover. He burns Martha's letters in a foxhole and plans to get rid of the



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