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Violence In "Greasy Lake" And "The Things They Carried"

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Both Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" and T. Coraghessan Boyle's "Greasy Lake" display characters' similar reactions to violence, but in different settings and circumstances. In "The Things They Carried," Fist Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is a soldier in the Vietnam War who finds solace and escape in fantasies of a young woman from home. One of Cross's soldiers dies due to his daydreaming and forces him to abandon these fantasies. In "Greasy Lake," the main character finds enjoyment in picking fights and breaking the law. A late night tussle leads to encounter with a dead body, causing the main character to reflect upon his wild lifestyle. Both stories show a coming to maturity through violence, though in different forms.

In "The Things They Carried," violence was a way of life forced upon First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. Cross, as a soldier in the Vietnam War, fights for his country, the safety of his fellow soldiers, and for his own survival. In describing the morale of himself and his soldiers Cross says, "it was just an endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing was won or lost" (O'Brien 631). For Lieutenant Cross, violence becomes a job, a job he neither wants or needs.

The main character in "Greasy Lake" seeks out and embraces violence. For him, "bad" (Boyle 130) is a necessary persona portrayed by a total disregard for the rules laid down by society. The main character and his friends ride around drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, and looking for trouble, "On this, the third night, we'd cruised... been in every bar and club... and chucked two dozen raw eggs at mailboxes and hitchhikers" (Boyle 131). For him, violence is something sought and a needed for enjoyment.

In response to the violence which surrounds him, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross allows himself to be engulfed in thoughts of another place with different people. Cross has a love by the name of Martha who he spends countless hours a day fantasizing about. Martha occupies so much of his time that it becomes a burden: "Lieutenant Cross... was buried with Martha under the white sand ad the Jersey shore... he could not bring himself to worry about matters of security... he was just a kid at war, in love. He couldn't help it" (O'Brien 630). Surrounded by a world a war and violence, these daydreams are the only escape Lieutenant Cross has and he embraces them fully.

When faced with violence, the main character from "Greasy Lake" not only accepts it, but encourages it. Upon the boy's arrival to Greasy Lake, he and his friends mistakenly hassle a stranger and his girlfriend. Instead of apologizing for the disturbance and trying to reason with the stranger, he and his friends immediately engage in battle, beating the stranger unconscious. The rage and violence of this attack does not end here. The main character turns his attention to the stranger's girlfriend: "It was the fox... that set us off... she was already tainted. We were on her... grabbing for flesh" (Boyle 133). The rape does not occur as the boys are chased away by an approaching vehicle, but the intent of a second violent event was fully present. Every opportunity for violence encountered by the main character is met with open arms.

In "The Things They Carried," violence brings forth an epiphany for First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. Lieutenant Cross, while seeking comfort in his imagination, allows one of his men to be shot and killed. His lack of security led to an unnecessary casualty: "[Cross] hated himself. He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry... for the rest of the war" (O'Brien



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