Tim OBriens The Things They Carried

This essay has a total of 1502 words and 6 pages.

Tim OBriens 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 statement, "I was a liberal, for Christ's sake: if they needed
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