Review Of Tim Obriens: The Things They Carried Essay

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Review Of Tim Obriens: The Things They Carried

Critical Review: Tim O'Brien's
The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is not a novel about the Vietnam War. It is a story
about the soldiers and their experiences and emotions that are brought about from the war.
O'Brien makes several statements about war through these dynamic characters. He shows the
violent nature of soldiers under the pressures of war, he makes an effective antiwar
statement, and he comments on the reversal of a social deviation into the norm. By
skillfully employing the stylistic technique of specific, conscious detail selection and
utilizing connotative diction, O'Brien thoroughly and convincingly makes each point.

The violent nature that the soldiers acquired during their tour in Vietnam is one of
O'Brien's predominant themes in his novel. By consciously selecting very descriptive
details that reveal the drastic change in manner within the men, O'Brien creates within
the reader an understanding of the effects of war on its participants. One of the
soldiers, "Norman Bowler, otherwise a very gentle person, carried a Thumb. . .The Thumb
was dark brown, rubbery to touch. . . It had been cut from a VC corpse, a boy of fifteen
or sixteen"(13). Bowler had been a very good-natured person in civilian life, yet war
makes him into a very hard-mannered, emotionally devoid soldier, carrying about a severed
finger as a trophy, proud of his kill. The transformation shown through Bowler is an
excellent indicator of the psychological and emotional change that most of the soldiers
undergo. To bring an innocent young man from sensitive to apathetic, from caring to
hateful, requires a great force; the war provides this force. However, frequently are the
changes more drastic. A soldier named "Ted Lavender adopted an orphaned puppy. . .Azar
strapped it to a Claymore antipersonnel mine and squeezed the firing device"(39). Azar has
become demented; to kill a puppy that someone else has adopted is horrible. However, the
infliction of violence has become the norm of behavior for these men; the fleeting moment
of compassion shown by one man is instantly erased by another, setting order back within
the group. O'Brien here shows a hint of sensitivity among the men to set up a startling
contrast between the past and the present for these men. The effect produced on the reader
by this contrast is one of horror; therefore fulfilling O'Brien's purpose, to convince the
reader of war's severely negative effects. In the buffalo story, "We came across a baby
water buffalo. . .After supper Rat Kiley went over and stroked its nose. . .He stepped
back and shot it through the right front knee. . .He shot it twice in the flanks. It
wasn't to kill, it was to hurt"(85). Rat displays a severe emotional problem here;
however, it is still the norm. The startling degree of detached emotion brought on by the
war is inherent in O'Brien's detailed accounts of the soldiers' actions concerning the
lives of other beings.

O'Brien's use of specific and connotative diction enhances the same theme, the loss of
sensitivity and increase in violent behavior among the soldiers. The VC from which Bowker
took the thumb was just "a boy"(13), giving the image of a young, innocent person who
should not have been subjected to the horrors of war. The connotation associated with boy
enhances the fact that killing has no emotional effect on the Americans, that they kill
for sport and do not care who or what their game may be. Just as perverse as killing boys,
though, is the killing of "a baby"(85), the connotation being associated with human
infants even though it is used to describe a young water buffalo they torture. The idea of
a baby is abstract, and the killing of one is frowned upon in modern society, regardless
of species. O'Brien creates an attitude of disgust in the reader with the word, further
fulfilling his purpose in condemning violence. Even more drastic in connotation to be
killed is the "orphaned puppy"(39). Adding to the present idea of killing babies is the
idea of killing orphaned babies, which brings out rage within the reader. The whole
concept is metaphoric, based on the connotations of key words; nevertheless, it is
extremely effective in conveying O'Brien's theme.

O'Brien makes a valid, effective antiwar statement in The Things They Carried. The details
he includes give the reader insight into his opinions concerning the Vietnam War and the
draft that was used to accumulate soldiers for the war. While thinking of escaping to
Canada, he says: "I was drafted to fight a war I hated. . .The American war seemed to me
wrong"(44). O'Brien feels that U.S. involvement in Vietnamese affairs was unnecessary and
wasteful. He includes an account of his plan to leave the country because he did not want
to risk losing his life for a cause he did not believe in. Here O'Brien shows the level of
contempt felt towards the war; draft dodging is dangerous. He was not a radical antiwar
enthusiast, however, for he takes "only a modest stand against the war"(44). While not
condoning the fighting, he does not protest the war except for minimally, peacefully, and
privately doing so. His dissatisfaction with the drafting process is included in his
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