Memories are an inseparable part of human life. Some memories are pleasing and enjoyable whereas some are agonizing, but still all are the part of life. In times of distress, the memories of joyful times provide the strength to bear the sorrow, and owing to this reason numerous people hold on to their memories. It is this clinging of humans to their memories or other sorts of feelings that is depicted in the short story “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. The story describes an array of soldiers trying to survive the Vietnam combat.
Each character in the short story carries a different fear, memory of some sort, or tangible items that depended on each mission. “The Things They Carried” is a great depiction of how all the soldiers in the war carry emotional or purely physical “things” along their journey of survival through the jungles of Vietnam. The things carried by the soldiers provide an insight into their thoughts and attitudes. The Things The soldiers in the story were struggling to survive in a place far away from their own world and people.
Fighting in Vietnam for their country, these soldiers carried along with them few things, which aided them in bearing the hardships of war. For example Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried Martha’s letters in his rucksack. “Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha…They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. ” (O’Brien 1147). The carrying of letters by Jimmy Cross shows how thoughts and emotions are intangible things carried through the march. Through the letters, Jimmy Cross tries to fulfill his desire of being loved by Martha.
The letters were a source which took him into an imaginary world of love and joy. “He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. ” (O’Brien 1147). Although Maratha had not written anything in the letter which showed that she was in love with Jimmy Cross, Jimmy Cross valued those letters and carried them with him during his march in the jungles. Jimmy Cross also carried a couple of Martha’s photographs. His love for Martha and his intense desire to have Martha as his lover but preferably as a virgin is evident from the things he carried with him and the manner in which he described them.
While looking at her photo, he is attracted towards her legs which make him to think that she was a virgin. “Her legs, he thought, were almost certainly the legs of a virgin, dry and without hair”. (O’Brien 1148). Another thing that reminded Jimmy of Martha was a pebble which she had sent him as a token meant to convey her feelings. Holding the pebble in his mouth, he would imagine himself with Martha on a shore. But after the death of Ted Lavender, Jimmy Cross frees himself from the imaginary world of Martha’s love by burning her letters and photographs.
He starts to think about the real world of war where he is living now. The things carried by Jimmy point towards him as an individual who was so lost in his imaginary world that he lost his grip on the real world. “Jimmy is just so wrapped up in his lost love and his love life that in effect he gets somebody killed and then realizes all that has to be put aside. ” (Herzog 28). The love of Martha that he carried with him in the form of her letters and photographs hindered him from fulfilling his duties as the Lieutenant of his group.
The other soldiers in the group also carry things along with them, which assist them in enduring the hardships they face in the course of their fulfillment of duties as soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. Henry Dobbins derived pleasure from having food so he carried rations which were more compared to the rations carried by other soldiers. Dave Jenson was very particular about hygiene so he carried the things which were needed by him to maintain his personal hygiene. Ted Lavender experienced nervousness and to alleviate his anxiety, he always carried tranquilizers.
Ted lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers. ” (O’Brien 1147). The soldiers carried things which would provide them with the strength to bear the adversities of a war. Each one carried a thing which he regarded as a source of comfort and joyful memories. “Norman Bowker carries a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father. ” (O’ Brien 1148). The things carried by the soldiers reflected their thoughts and attitudes.
Amidst the horrors of war, the soldiers needed things which eased their tensed feelings and allowed them to escape away from the harsh realities of war for some time. The things connected them with their world which they have left behind before arriving as soldiers in Vietnam, prepared to kill their enemies for the sake of their country. Some of the soldiers were influenced by their superstitious beliefs to carry things which would bring them good luck and aid them to return safely to their country. “The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition.
Lieutenant Cross carried his good-luck pebble. Dave Jenson carried a rabbit’s foot …. carried a thumb that had been presented to him as a gift by Mitchell Sanders. ” (O’ Brien 1153). Living in circumstances where death lurked at every step of their march, these soldiers held on their lives by carrying things which they thought would protect them from death. As soldiers, these men were required to carry weapons and things necessary for surviving in jungle. But along with the required things, the soldiers also carried personal things to which they were emotionally attached.
By carrying the weapons, the soldiers carried the burden of war and by carrying their personal things they carried the weight of their emotions. Jimmy Cross carried the burden of Martha’s love. “To carry something was to “hump” it, as when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps. In its intransitive form, “to hump” meant “to walk,” or “to march,” but it implied burdens far beyond the intransitive. ” (O’Brien 1148).
All the soldiers intended to remain connected to their past through the things they carried with them in their present times of danger. The men have in common the “things they carry” objects that might help them to maintain a tenuous connection to their past as they daily risk their lives. ” (Smith 202). The things carried by the soldiers bring forth their character and their thoughts. Conclusion The short story “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’ Brien depicts the significance of carrying personal things for soldiers who were struggling to survive in the Vietnam War. These soldiers carry things with them, which reminds them of their peaceful and joyous past, or provides comfort in their times of hardship and distress.
The letters of Martha that Jimmy Cross carries with him take him into an imaginary world of love and joy. The letters are a source of joy for Jimmy Cross who is living amidst death and pain in the jungles of Vietnam. The other soldiers also carry things with them, which aid them in bearing the hardships of fighting in the war. The physical things carried by the soldiers appear to be trivial things to the reader but to the soldiers these things were the provider of strength and comfort that they needed the most in the risky circumstances of war.