O’Brien’s command of the short narrative can be seen best in The Things They Carried. He uses this short-story collection/novel as an juncture to reprize and widen some of his deepest subjects and to notice on the intent and art of fiction. Writing with considerable wit and understanding. O’Brien offers his narratives as a sort of history of the war. “The Thingss They Carried. ” the often anthologized rubric narrative to the aggregation. is. like many of O’Brien’s plants. a literary loanblend that defies easy categorization ; but above all. it is a traveling narrative about the physical. emotional. and psychological loads a soldier must bear.
The Things They Carried relies to a great extent on atomization to convey the sense of disruption and pandemonium of the war. The Things They Carried is a narrative about the group of soldiers who shared clip in Vietnam with the storyteller. This narrative introduces the assorted characters who will be mentioned in the narratives that follow. The storyteller uses a description of the points the assorted work forces carried as a manner of presenting them to the reader:
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a miss named Martha. . . . Henry Dobbins. who was a large adult male. carried excess rations. . . . Dave Jensen. who practiced field hygiene. carried a toothbrush. dental floss. and several hotel-sized bars of soap. . . . Ted Lavender. who was scared. carried tranquillizers. . . and six or seven ounces of premium pot. which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders. the RTO [ wireless telephone operator ] . carried rubbers. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried amusing books. Kiowa. a devout Baptist. carried an illustrated New Testament. ( 3 – 4 )
Part narrative ( it has characters. a scene. and something of a secret plan ) . portion military preparation manual. and portion hardware list. the narrative investigates the “weight” of the different “tangibles” and “intangibles” the soldiers “hump. ” or carry. At times. depending upon the mission. the soldiers carry a host of touchable objects. They carry a assortment of arms. from M-16s all the manner down to a catapult. “a arm of last resort” ( 8 ) . and lbs and lbs of standard cogwheel: flak jackets. Canis familiaris tickets. can openers. toothbrushes. and countless other points. As O’Brien inside informations these objects and gives their weight—“they all carried steel helmets that weighed 5 pounds” ( 4 ) —the narrative reads like lists or extracts from a survival usher. But among the stock lists of concrete things. O’Brien frequently includes in half a sentence a thing that has no physical mass but that however weighs to a great extent on the oinks: “Some carried CS or rupture gas grenades. Some carried white P grenades. They carried all they could bear. and so some. including a soundless awe for the awful power of the things they carried” ( 9 ) . The true weight of the things they carry is the intent for which they were designed: to kill other people.
The description of the points each adult male carried gives the reader some initial feeling of the character’s personality. but the points besides represent the private anxiousnesss of each soldier. If the tangibles burden the soldiers. the intangibles imperativeness down upon them even more: “They carried all the emotional luggage of work forces who might decease. Grief. panic. love. longing—these were intangibles. but the intangibles had their ain mass and specific gravitation. they had touchable weight” ( 20 ) . Ted Lavender. a soldier who is shot in the caput after urinating. carried the standard cogwheel. plus tranquillizers and marihuana to assist ease “the unweighed fear” of being maimed or killed. As the storyteller comments. “They all carried ghosts” ( 10 ) ; non merely do they retrieve their companions who have died. but they carry fright of the elusive Viet Cong who lurk someplace in the jungle. out of sight. ghostlike. Amid all the force and decease. “they carried their ain lives” ( 15 ) .
The construction of this first narrative sets up the construction of the full novel. The descriptions of the things each adult male carried are interrupted by the interpolation of short narrative fragments depicting events from assorted times in the characters’ circuit. Each of the narratives in this book is fragmented in some manner by mentions to old narratives or mentions to the deceases or actions of the assorted characters or by the narrator’s intrusive treatment of the authorship procedure.
For illustration. the narrative of Jimmy Cross ( who. the reader is told in “The Thingss They Carried. ” carries letters from Martha ) is continued in “Love. ” the 2nd narrative. which is set stateside. after the war. Stories four and five. “Enemies” and “Friends. ” are companion pieces. Each tells the narrative of the struggle and resulting friendly relationship between Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk. Norman Bowker besides crops up in a brace of narratives: “Speaking of Courage. ” the 15th narrative. and “Notes. ” the 16th narrative. Henry Dobbins figures conspicuously in three narratives: “Stockings. ” the 10th narrative ; “Church. ” the 11th narrative ; and “Style. ” the 14th narrative. “Stockings” describes Henry’s superstitious nature ; he wears a brace of his girlfriend’s stockings throughout his circuit. even though his girlfriend broke off the relationship well before his circuit ended.
Although the aggregation as a whole was widely hailed. several narratives in The Things They Carried garnered peculiar attending. The title narrative lists the countless points that soldiers carry into conflict. runing from the common ( coffin nails. machine guns. canned Prunus persicas ) to the personal ( love letters. amusing books ) . The latter points are totems of kinds. souvenirs from their lives back in America. The narrative is truly about the emotions that the soldiers carry with them: heartache. panic. love. yearning. and sorrow.
The intertwining of these narratives can best be deconstructed by taking apart one narrative and following the atomization of the narrative. The best illustration of this is “Spin. ” a slackly affiliated set of confused fragments of memories. “Spin” is truly a set of three distinguishable narrative strands that repeat themselves. The narrative begins with a twine of bad memories. followed by a twine of good memories. broken by an column invasion. This form is so repeated. “Spin” offers a mixture of fragments stand foring assorted representative activities and events of the characters’ clip in Vietnam. It begins with a brief. paragraph-long memory – the narrator’s remembrance of a crippled Vietnamese male child imploring for a cocoa saloon.
It moves following to the narrator’s memory of Mitchell Sanders get offing an envelope of organic structure lice to his bill of exchange board. so to a reference of Norman Bowker and Henry Dobbins’s wont of playing draughtss “every flushing before dark” ( 36 ) . This narrative twine of memories is broken by a series of invasions by the storyteller. who says. “I’m 43 old ages old. and a author now. and the war has been over for a long piece. Much of it is difficult to remember” ( 34 ) . He so mentions the deceases of Kiowa and Curt Lemon before traveling on to happier memories of the war. These happier memories include reference of Ted Lavender on a good twenty-four hours ( ‘How’s the war today? ’ person would state. and Ted Lavender would give a soft. spacey smiling and state. ‘Mellow. man’ [ 34 ] ) and the memory of the clip an aged Vietnamese adult male led the group safely through a minefield. The narrative so moves to a description of the ennui of combat before the storyteller interruptions in once more with an editorial remark: “I experience guilty sometimes. Forty-three old ages old and I’m still composing war narratives. . . . That’s the existent compulsion. All those stories” ( 38 ) .
As in many of his plants. O’Brien examines what keeps soldiers contending even when—as was frequently the instance in Vietnam—they did non understand the grounds for the war: “They carried the common secret of cowardliness hardly restrained. the inherent aptitude to run or stop dead or conceal. and in many respects this was the heaviest load of all. … Men killed. and died. because they were embarrassed non to” ( 20–21 ) . Harmonizing to O’Brien. the weight of household and state. duty and award. and the fright of being labeled a coward imperativeness down upon the work forces. It is a weight so heavy they risk their ain lives and destroy others to ease the strain. By intermixing long lists with characters and minutes of action. O’Brien creates a powerful narrative that makes nowadays for us the awful loads we ask soldiers to transport on our behalf.
O’Brien Tim.The Things They Carried.New York: Penguin Books. 1991.