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The Things They Carried

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When one thinks of war, the general thought is that it inspires acts of patriotism and heroism. No one really looks deeper into the topic to find that along with patriotism and heroism there are often feelings of shame and loneliness. In The Things They Carried it is clear that most of the soldiers in the war do not come back with a sense of pride or honor. Most come back wishing they had never gone at all. Tim O'Brien reveals that because Vietnam precipitated such traumatic experiences, his storytelling is a great way to cope with his shame and loneliness, emphasizing that the war experience is not one of patriotism and heroism, but one of loneliness and guilt.

The "things" part of the title represents not only the physical things that the soldiers carried but also the emotions and superstitions. The longing for love and companionship is expressed in the character Henry Dobbins. He wraps a pair of his girlfriend's pantyhose around his neck for good luck. Even after she had broken up with him he still continues to wear them, making his longing for love more evident. Another thing that soldiers carried in war is guilt. Some soldiers went to war because of the opinions of family and friends rather than their own. One of the chapters entitled "On the Rainy River" tells the story of Tim O'Brien and how he didn't initially want to participate in the war. Upon hearing that he had gotten drafted into the war, O'Brien is faced with a major dilemma. His personal morals and values teach him that war is wrong. However, his family's praises of the war and the people in his community discourage him from fleeing the country. He becomes afraid of what others will think of him and doesn't wish to be looked upon as a coward. Deciding to go to war sends him on a guilt trip throughout his entire experience as a soldier.

Part of the lasting myth of war is that soldiers get to go home to their loving wife and children. In Tim O'Brien's story most of the men returned home only to find loneliness. Everything seems to fall apart for Jimmy Cross when he returns home. He spends an ample amount of time reminiscing about a woman named Martha, basking in the memories of their encounters together. He dreams of tying her to a bed in order to "touch that left knee all night long (O'Brien 6)". His dreams never become a reality because Martha's rejects him on her visit. While in Vietnam, she becomes in tune with nature and her new environment, leaving Cross sad and lonely. Based on the stories in The Things They Carried, loneliness



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