Things They Carried
The Things They Carried Essay
The novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien courage is not present in the novel because the characters do not show courage, the lack of bravery and confidence, throughout the novel. The Things They Carried takes place in the Vietnam War when soldiers carry their own supplies which help them stay focus with an open mind. Death and family is always present in every solders mind. Knowing that they can get shot at anytime while in the Vietnam War and not going to be able to see their family members again. Carrying pounds of supplies with the constant fear of getting shot, many solders do not survive the war but the ones that do have their own little personal War story to tell.
Every soldier carries personal items which help gives them strength to fight the war with them as they fought for their lives. The items and supplies that they carry that they carry give the soldiers courage to live. “Jimmy Cross received a good-luck charm from Martha it was a simple pebble, he carried the pebble in his mouth, he had difficulty keeping his attention on the war. (9) As a token of Martha and Jimmy Cross’s friendship the pebble is a symbol of their friendship. Since Jimmy Cross is at war Martha is always in Cross’s mind becoming a common distraction for Cross. Martha is such a distraction in Cross’s mind that he questions himself if she is still a virgin. The absence of courage is not present because Lt. Cross never has his train of thought focuses in the war. However the pebble that Martha gives to Cross mentally, gives him courage to live another day until the war is over so that he can see her again. When Cross’s comrade Ted Lavender is killed in action, his mind is at a different place. Martha is such a distraction that he never forgives himself for the death of Ted Lavender because he believes that if his mind is focus he will be about to save his life instead. Courage is when a person does a helpful act risking his or her life, and it is the self-determination that tells one to move on. “Like when Ted Lavender went too heavy on the tranquilizers. “How’s the war today?” somebody would say, and Ted Lavender would give a soft, spacey smile and say, “Mellow, man. We got ourselves a nice mellow war today.” (33) Ted Lavender is constantly doping himself in the war that is why he calls the Vietnam War a mellow war. Ted is afraid of the war because death is in a war and he does not want to constantly have that image in his mind. Thus, he calms himself down by going to a psychedelic state. While Ted Lavender is high, he escapes reality and is in a type of distraction mode like such as Lt. Cross imagines talking to Martha in Vietnam. Ted Lavender is also the first character that dies a preventable death by if he were to pay attention to what he is doing. This topic is important because Ted Lavender and Lt. Cross both need a distraction to escape reality of the Vietnam War because courage is not present in their mind. Staying alive and getting back home is what both of them want to achieve.
Courage is not present if a soldier dies, his comrades feel guilt for the death. “I remember, we paused over a snapshot of Ted Lavender, and after a while Jimmy rubbed his eyes and said he’d never forgiven himself for Lavender’s death.”(27) After Ted Lavender’s hasty death, many soldiers feel that his death is practically preventable. Many soldiers at the time of Lavender’s death were not paying attention to death, because when a soldier dies in an unforeseen preventable death, his comrades will feel responsible. “The young soldiers standing alone at the center of the field shoulders were shaking. My fault, and he nodded and waded out across the field. The young soldier was trying hard not to cry. He, too, blamed himself for Kiowa’s death. (170-171) In the field after Kiowa’s death the young soldier believes that it is his fault for Kiowa’s death. He is crying and franticly looking for Kiowa’s dead body because seconds before Kiowa’s death he was holding the young soldier’s picture of his girlfriend. Kiowa’s comrades know they can not leave Kiowa in the field, but they do not wish to dwell on his death because of the hot and moist weather. Courage is not present in this part of the novel because blaming yourself for someone’s death is not the right action. If a soldier dies, count your loses and move on there is nothing else that can bring back a dead body. Jimmy Cross and his whole platoon considers Kiowa’s death is not suppose to happen because he dies in a unsuspected way that his comrades can not get their minds straight. The soldiers in Kiowa’s platoon finds his body and sends the body home into a helicopter and try to forget about his death since death is not the best image to think about in a War. Soldiers do not want to have any kind of an image of death including their own body so soldiers try to ignore the fact that people die in a war.
Soldiers are willing to do anything to get out of a war.
“The Daft note arrived on June 17, 1968. I was not solder,… I hated boy scouts,… the sight of blood made me queasy… Seriously I begin thinking about Canada, the boarder lay a few hundred miles north, an eight hour drive,… Both my conscience and my instincts were telling me to break for it just take off and run” (44)
Tim receives a draft note to serve in the Vietnam War in his mail box one summer afternoon and admits that he is embarrass to say that he is scared and afraid of war. In the summer, Tim lures himself to run to Canada but eight feet from the boarder he decides to fight in the war. In the beginning, Tim is afraid of death that is why he do not approve of participating in the war but if he decides to run he can not bare the embarrassment his parents, brother, sister and wife will say. If country asks you to be in a war many people will have seconds thoughts like Tim because you can die in action but if your survive the war you receive many benefits in life like a all expenses paid education. If Tim did not go to War he fears that he will be titled as a coward and because of that he accepts the War. “The next morning Rat Kiley shot himself, he took off his boots and socks, laid out his medical kit, doped himself up, and put a round through his foot. Nobody blamed him, Sanders said.”(223) Kiley can not take the war anymore he’d rather shoot himself in the foot than the Vietcong killing him. No one in the platoon judges Kiley for his action because when he shots himself in the foot he does not need to participate in the War effort anymore. He receives full benefits from the government. Many soldiers realizes in a war like Vietnam in a forest infested with insects of all kind, crucial judgments are hastily made. Kiley is literally driven insane by the war and decides to give himself a minor foot wound instead of suicide or getting killed in combat. He is afraid of dyeing in combat. Kiley does not choose suicide because he just wants to get out of the war. Kiley in the end, rather have people calling him a coward, then dead. Tim and Kiley both have second thoughts about the Vietnam War which reflects off of their actions.
Under pressure from war soldiers tend to loose their true sense of mind.
“Anyways, the guys try to be cool. They just lie there and groove, but after a while they start hearing music, mama-san soprano, gook opera, and a barbershop quartet. The guy’s cant cope. They lost it. They get on the radio and report enemy movement – a whole army. They call in air strikes and they just smoke those mountains.” (74)
A group of men lead by Mitchell Sanders are station in the mountains to listen for the for couple of weeks. Their mission is just to listen and observe their surroundings. Of all the silence the soldier are more crazy than alert. They begin to hear strange sounds like rock music, and bells. The soldiers are more paranoid of becoming under attack. After not able to interrupt the noise and too afraid of dying in combat that the soldiers radio in heavy artillery, saying that they are attack a whole army full of Vietcong. They burn and blow up the entire mountainside with six trillion dollars worth of artillery. The unknown is the greatest enemy rather than the Vietcong. With the absence of bravery and confidence soldiers need a moral boast by receiving heavy cover fire.
“As we sat waiting Curt Lemon begain to tense up. No way. Count me out. Nobody messes with these teeth. He fainted even before the dentist touched him. Late at night he crept down to the dental tent, Told young captain he had a monster toothache but there was no problem, but Lemon kept insisting so the man finally shrugged and yanked out a perfectly good tooth” (87-88)
When it is Curt Lemon’s turn for his oral examination, he faints before the dentist even touches him. Curt Lemon is not able to defeat his fears with dentist even though he is an adult, because as a child his experience with doctors were unpleasant. Lemon is unable to psychologically prepare himself for dentist to exam his teeth because he is so obsessed with his braveness. Fainting in front of the dentist demonstrates he does not have the courage to mentally overcome his fear of dentist. For Lemon physical suffering is easier to tolerate than mental suffering because Lemon can tolerate killing a person than have to think about his past with his experience with a dentist. It is ironic that Lemon is unable to face his fears with a dentist and is not scared of the war. Lemon at the time is under pressure a probably not thinking properly like Mitchell Sanders and the soldiers.
Courage can be determine by a character’s action.
“Norman Bowker, who three years later hang himself in the locker room of the YMCA in his home town. My life, I mean. It’s almost like I got killed in Nam…Hard to describe. That night when Kiowa got wasted, I sort of sank down into the sewage with him.” (155-156)
When Kiowa dies in a surprising preventable death Norman Bowker is depress that he did not save his comrade. When Kiowa dies, Bowker believes that he also dies with him because of Kiowa’s death in Bowker’s eyes is his fault and that he is able to save him. He considers that since it is his fault that Kiowa dies that he does not need to live. When at his home town he is not able to talk to anyone about his problems that he encountered in Vietnam. Bowker writes a fourteen page letter to Tim about how his life has not meaning to him and that he looses all his courage in life to live. Without courage life truly is meaningless because courage is what a person does to live. It is almost like the true meaning of life and Bowker is never able to find his meaning in life. Bowker keeps on thinking about the past and without talking to someone about it like a physiatrist he is just gaves up on life and commits suicide. He can not talk about the war to anybody since there is nobody to listen to him. “Rouenna found that, whenever she brought up the war, people would change the subject or turn away. After a while she stopped telling people that she had even been to Vietnam—(page1 For Rouenna) Just like Bowker, Roueanna both have the same problem people after the war do no like to talk about the war because death and blood is commonly involve. Bowker does not have courage to accept what happens in the past so like a coward by not letting his past go away he hangs himself with his guilt. “The pantyhose, he said, had the properties of a good-luck charm. Dobbins felt the protective power of the stocking. They were like his body armor he thought” (118)
Henry Dobbins wears his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck as a good—luck charm. Dobbins is a superstitious person who believes that his stocks is like an armor. The stock gives Dobbins the courage to fight and without the sock he is defenseless. Dobbins is superstitious because the stockings saves his life two one is the steps on a dead mortar round and the other he survives a firefight. Dobbin’s courage is almost the same as Lt. Cross’s with his pebble in his mouth for good—luck. They both need their symbolic talismans to help them function properly in the Vietnam War. Bowker, and Dobbins both have their own needs to give them courage but it is never obvious.
Without courage soldiers will be afraid of death.
“Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk made a pact that if one of them should ever get totally messed up—a wheelchair wound—the other guy would find a way to end it. In October Lee Strunk stepped on a rigged mortar round. It took off his right leg. Don’t kill me, but you got to promise Swear it to me.”(66)
Strunk and Jensen think that life is not worth living if they can not write, walk, or do any major physical. The pat is such a brave role to make up that when it really part of the situation living sounds so much better. When Strunk loses part of his leg, from stepping on a mortar he is horrified, and understands that primarily he wants to live and not die. Becoming close to death helps Stuck appreciate how life is that precious to us. One life time is very short and that people can not take life for granted. Death is a scary part of every bodies life because it is like a dark stage in someone else’s life. But when Strunk is actually injured, he immediately tells Jensen to cancel the agreement made in a time, because at that moment Stuck realizes that life is not worth giving up so easy. Courage is not present because Stuck is scared to die.
“A new medic named Bobby Jorgenson replaced him. Jorgenson was no Rat Kiley. He was green and incompetent and scared. So when I got shot the second time, in the butt, along the Song Tra Bong, it took that son of a bitch almost ten minutes to work up the nerve to crawl over to me.” (218)
Bobby Jorgenson is the new medic that takes Rat Kiley’s place because of his mishap with his foot. On Jorgenson’s first day as a medic Tim is shot and needs medical attention quickly but Jorgenson is too afraid to get to Tim. Unlike Rat Kiley, Jorgenson is not a very brave one. He is afraid to get to Tim because he does not want to get shot himself while assisting Tim. He is coward for not assisting his fallen comrade right away. Jorgenson moves very slowly because he is still taking caution because this is his first day and on his first day he did not have courage. Vietnam is a horrifying, mysterious place, and Tim does not want to die in the battle field. Jorgenson did not want to get shot because he is scared of death. Death to all soldiers is something every soldier has to overcome and ignore because in a war while fighting you want to have all your distractions behind you. Death is one of the major ideas that soldiers like Jorgenson not think of while in a firefight.
Many soldiers that participate in a war do have courage but it is not always present in a soldier. Courage can present in one action and not in the other. Jim Phillps his courage to fight in the Vietnam war but does not have the courage to tell he fellow comrade’s parents that he died for no reason because it is not the right thing to say.
The Things They Carried is gives a new perspective about War and how it effects the soldiers that participate in the war. Soldiers have to have courage to be in a war because they can not forget that if they have the change they will have to kill someone while on duty. Many sleepless nights are present because during the day it may be to hostile to dangerous to fight. Also not able to see your loved ones for about a couple of months is very hard to a Soldier. Veterans also have a tough time blending back into society because a war and a office setting are two complete different setting also when soldiers comeback people tend not to talk to them because no one ever wants to listen to a story with death. Americans that lived during the Vietnam war will never forget the gulling pictures that they saw on the television.