In the short story “The Things They Carried”, Tim O’Brien wrote about the experience of war and the feelings young soldiers felt during their long days of travel. During the story he keeps referring back to the things the soldiers chose to carry in their packs. Some of these items included necessity items like grenades and ammunition, but they also carry sentimental items like love letters and pictures. These items help the reader better understand each person for who they are and help us to understand the physical situation the soldiers are in.

In “The Things They Carried”, Tim O’Brien describes the item the soldiers carry in their packs and the emotional weight they carry to help give a better understanding of each person. Tim O’Brien discusses some the necessity items that each soldier carries which include “P-38 can opener, pocket knifes, heat tabs, wrist watches, dog tags, mosquito repellant, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water” (O’Brien 117).

These items alone would range between 15 and 20 pounds. Tim O’Brian talks about how much each item weighs down to the ounce to show how much weight each of the soldiers carry. This weight varies between each soldier and what they prefer to carry in their packs. It is very important that each person know exactly how much weight they will be carrying, because they never know how far they will be traveling from day to day. Each soldier also carried steel helmets which weighed 5 pounds. What the soldiers carried also varied by mission.

When describing items, O’Brien frequently tells how much it weighs. “The weapon weighed 7. 5 pounds unloaded, 8. 2 pounds with its full twenty-round magazine. The rifle men carried anywhere from twelve to twenty magazines… adding on another 8. 4 pounds at minimum, fourteen pounds maximum” (O’Brien 119). O’Brien portrays a great sense of burden for these men to carry so much weight. He even manages to add the burden of carrying nature: “They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere…they carried gravity” (O’Brien 124).

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The reader is given much attention to the weight and pressure of all the external forces the soldier would carry. But the greatest of weight the men carried with them was not physical at all. It was their emotions: “Grief, terror, love, longing these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. ” (O’Brien 126) Throughout the story, O’Brien gives long, tedious, monotonous and utterly boring lists of the things the men carried. “The things they carried were largely determined by necessity” (O’Brien 117), but each man’s necessities were different.

All of the men carried very heavy loads to begin with, and added to these loads things that seemingly lightened their burdens. O’Brien’s point behind all this listing is to show the reader just how much physical weight these men carried and how slow and tedious the war in which they fought was. “They moved like mules… it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. ” (O’Brien 124) Many of the soldiers carried personal possession from back home to remind them of the life they had left.

Jimmy Cross carried a picture of Martha and letters she wrote to him. Jimmy Cross also carried the pebble Martha sent to him from the Jersey shore. This would remind him of how he yearned to be back at home with her. Kiowa carried around his bible that was given to him from his father, and a pair of moccasins that reminded him of his heritage. Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck. (O’Brien 121). These items were carried for courage and luck, for they were in a dangerous situation all the time.

The soldiers carried everything that could improve their quality of life in the situation they were in. The circumstances they were surrounded by magnified “The Things They Carried. ” The physical demands were great, and if you add the emotional weight of fear, dying, and loneliness, this put an addition weight on their shoulders. The notion of what an individual requires for his or her survival varies with the particular situation at any given time. These needs may intensify or become distorted as one finds himself in an increasingly dangerous situation, particularly a life-and-death one such as war.


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