The Things They Carried is a novel written by Tim O'Brien in the late 1980's in Massachusetts. It is a collection of interrelated short stories, mainly about the Vietnam War. The story took place in Vietnam in the late 1960's and in Massachusetts in the late 1980's. The time and place of the action is interrelated to when the work was written because Tim O'Brien is writing about his experiences during the war. In reliving his memories and telling stories, he is trying to come to terms with everything that has happened (Werlock, 2008). The setting of this book is extremely significant because it was set in the center of a war and the story is about the war. It is also about Tim O'Brien's life in this war (Booksource, The, 2009). That is why the setting of The Things They Carried is significant. The exposition of the story is with Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, showing how he is a young man who is very ill equipped for the Vietnam war. He carried around letters from Martha; even though they were not love letters, he kept them and mooned over them often. The major conflict of the novel is how the men grapple with both the instant and long-term effects of the Vietnamese War. The rising action begins when Tim O'Brien gets his draft notice (Bloom, 2005).
The setting of the story led to the author coming up with many themes in order to enhance the understanding of the story. These themes came up throughout the book several times and caught my attention. He is telling war stories from his point of view, through his life experiences. An example of this would be when Rat Kiley was so upset over Curt Lemon's death that he savagely killed a water buffalo. The climax would be how each man of the Alpha Company must cope with death and despair and the guilt that comes from killing and also from living while others die. The memories are kept alive by the telling of the stories. I would definitely recommend this book to any of my friends or acquaintances. His point of view of the story helps me understand the story a lot, as he is the one telling the story and living it. The physical burdens of staying out all night on watch are often almost more than a man can bear. Tim O'Brien explores many themes in this novel. Kiowa has a major influencing role in this book because he is there by Tim O'Brien's side throughout most of the book until his death. Another major character would be O'Brien's closest friend Kiowa. The significance of this character to the novel is important because without him, many decisions could have been different and the story would have been changed. The biggest character in this book has to be Tim O'Brien himself. The use of this foreshadowing made me wants to go ahead and delve into the book to see what happened to men like Ted Lavender, Curt Lemon, and Kiowa. The falling action would be when Tim O'Brien returns home from war, alive but a vastly changed man who struggles with his memories and tells stories about the war.
Jimmy Cross's character represents the profound effects responsibility has on those who are too immature to handle it. As a sophomore in college, he signs up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps because it is worth a few credits and because his friends are doing it. But he does not care about the war and has no desire to be a team leader. As a result, when he is led into battle with several men in his charge, he is unsure in everything he does.
Cross's guilt is palpable every time one of his men dies, but it is most acute in the case of Ted Lavender. Right before Lavender is killed, Cross allows himself to be distracted and deluded by the thoughts of his coveted classmate, Martha, who sends him photographs and writes flowery letters that never mention the war. His innocent reverie is interrupted by Lavender's death, and Cross's only conclusion is that he loves this faraway girl more than he loves his men. Cross's confession to O'Brien, years later, that he has never forgiven himself for Lavender's death testifies to his intense feelings of guilt about the incident (Werlock, 2008).
Jimmy Cross can be viewed as a Christ figure. In times of inexplicable atrocity, certain individuals assume the position of a group's or their own savior. Such men suffer so that others don't have to bear the brunt of the guilt and confusion. Cross is linked to Christ not only on a superficial level, they share initials and are both connected to the idea of the cross-but also in the nature of his role. Like Christ, who suffers for his fellow men, Cross suffers for the sake of the entire platoon. In "The Things They Carried," Cross bears the grief of Lavender's death for the members of his troop, such as Kiowa, who are too dumbfounded to mourn. In the same story, he makes a personal sacrifice, burning the letters from Martha so that her presence will no longer distract him. In each case, Jimmy Cross makes a Christ-like sacrifice so that his fellow men-Norman Bowker and Kiowa, in this case, can carry on without being crippled by grief and guilt.
How the character changed
At the beginning of the story, Jimmy Cross is a Lieutenant who is preoccupied with his infatuation with a girl back home, so much so that he is lax in his leadership of his men. He allows them to smoke dope, drop items along the march, and joke around in a carefree manner (Novel Units, Inc. Staff, Watson & Pfordresher, 2003). This comes to a screeching halt for Lieutenant Cross when one of his men, Ted Lavender, is shot dead. At one time, Jimmy reacted to Lavenders shot. He took the responsibility of his death upon himself. He is the leader, and it is his fault, he feels, that Lavender is dead. Jimmy falls apart, emotion overwhelming him.
"He tried not to cry. With his entrenching tool, which weighed five pounds, he began digging a hole in the earth. He felt shame. He hated himself. He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war. All he could do was dig. He used his entrenching tool like an ax, slashing, feeling both love and hate, and then later, when it was full dark, he sat at the bottom of his foxhole and wept." (O'Brien 16-17)
It is not only Jimmy Cross that reacted to Lavender's death. Kiowa also reacted to Lavenders shot and by comparing the two reactions, it is clear that Jimmy Cross has not adapted to the War as effectively as Kiowa has. In order to survive, they need to be able to eliminate the emotions that can potentially overwhelm them (Kirszner & Mandel, 1994). By the end of this short story, Jimmy Cross grows into the soldier that he needs to be to make it in the War. That means that he will need to be more removed, as Kiowa is. He decides to dispense with his silly infatuation with Martha and become stricter with the men: "He would not tolerate laxity. He would show strength, distancing himself" (O'Brien 25).
This transformation is necessary but difficult for Jimmy Cross. He has to grow into a colder, harder man in order to adapt to his circumstances, which is the tragic part of this short story. No longer is Jimmy just a 24-year-old living in daydreams of a girl named Martha. As the narrator explains of Jimmy Cross's own thoughts, "It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do" (O'Brien 25).