The book The Things They Carried written by the author Tim O’Brien is a collection of short stories, written about a group of American soldiers stationed in the Vietnam War. It was originally published by Houghton Mifflin in 1990. It is loosely based on some of O’Brien’s’ personal experiences but is referred to as a work of fiction. The stories detail the atrocities of War and how it brought the comrades closer together.
One of the events that significantly affected me was when the leader Jimmy Cross, driven completely obsessed by his unrequited love Martha becomes so distracted that he fails to help his comrade Ted lavender. Lavender was shot from behind when he was on his way to the bathroom. Although driven by grief and anger, the soldiers nonchalantly made jokes about Lavender’s death to lessen their pain. However, grief and agony does come to Cross later on at night in the village of Than Khe. It was saddening to read how he dug up a fox hole and hid away at the bottom in the darkness and cried. His leadership, commitment to the cause and love for his battalion was apparent when he burns the photographs of Martha and moves on.
Another event that significantly impacted me was when O’Brien tried to run away to Canada to avoid being sent to fight in the Vietnam War. His situation is much like a lot of Americans today who see their brothers and sisters fighting in a war that they themselves don’t truly believe in. O’Brien wasn’t scared of its violence or brutality and didnt’t even fully understand the war at that point in time. However, he was against the very principle of war. He fully realized that his refusal to partake in it would cause embarrassment to his family and bring shame upon him. His stay at Rainy Rivers and the ultimate decision at the end to actually fight in the war was both ironic, heroic and in its own way cowardly. He gave up on his convictions and fell prey to the societal pressures. And it all happens when he was so close to freedom, that is, Canada.
I was moved by the events of the short story, The Man I Killed. I couldn’t help but grieve for O’Brien and the boy he killed. Clearly, he was haunted by the actual war and its effects were transparent from the immense details portrayed in this story. The details were beyond gruesome. At the same time, the insensitivity of the comrades was unbelievable. At that moment, it is as if O’Brien’s life has changed forever and nothing would ever be able to yank him out of his state. He imagined that the boy was like him; scared, alone and fighting a war that he didn’t believe in.
In the short story, the Lives of the Dead, he sees the dead body of an old man with his arm blown off. Kiowa asks him if this is his first experience with one. The story that he remembers at this point was incredibly touching for me. His first love Linda at the age of nine died from brain tumour. Linda’s death was completely unprovoked and left a deeper mark on O’Brien soul than any of the deaths in Vietnam. Death had not only taken away his true and absolute love but had also ripped away his innocence. Like all his comrades, his father had also tried to distract him when Linda died. However, for O’Brien that was certainly not the way to deal with death. Overall, this experience at such a tender age helped me somewhat understand, bear and cope with the grimness and brutality of war in Vietnam.
In my opinion, this book is as relevant today as it was a decade ago and is a must-read for everyone.