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The Things They Carried Essay

Men in the Vietnam War go through different actions like being ambushed and attacking the enemy which may make them feel different emotionally. These men deal with everyday death and other horrific conditions of the war. The soldiers in the novel The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, have been put through emotional and physical situations in and out of the battlefield. To keep themselves from breaking into post-traumatic stress or any other kind of emotion, the men joke about death instead of letting it have an effect on them, feel misplaced anger, and ponder over memories to help remember good things.

When feeling down one may feel a need to laugh and make jokes about the bad or good situations that are happening. In this case the men joke about the deaths of other soldiers. For Instance, Curt Lemon’s died by a tossing a smoke grenade with Rat Kiley, the shade of some trees and stepped into the sunlight and onto a rigged mortar round. “I remember pieces of skin and something wet and yellow that must’ve been the intestines.

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The gore was horrible and stays with me. But what wakes me up twenty years later is Dave Jensen singing “Lemon Tree” as we threw down the pars”(83). Regardless how anyone died making jokes is one action to keep these men entertained. Instead of looking at the reality of death itself, little comments were made by the soldiers to how it was caused. Kiowa made a comment how Ted Lavender died “he was zapped while zipping“. “They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness. Greased they’d say.

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Offed, lit up zapped while. It wasn’t cruelty, just stage presence. They were actors. When someone died, It wasn’t quite dying because in a curious way it seemed scripted, and because they had their lines mostly memorized, irony mixed with tragedy, and because they called it by other names, as if to encyst and destroy the reality of death itself. They kicked corpses. They cut off thumbs. They talked grunt lingo”(20). Humor may be the only emotion to be used as a comfort to the soldiers aside from killing. The men wore a disguise, like a mask to cover feelings of calmness that wouldn’t be shown. These mask‘s are not real just more of a barrier to keep there feelings from being expressed. In the same way, Azar unable to cope with stress he brutally kills Ted Lavender’s adopted puppy and instead blames it on his immaturity and youth. “By and large they carried things inside, maintaining the masks of composure. They sneered at sick call. They spoke bitterly about guys who found release by shooting off their own toes or fingers. Pussies, they’d say. Candy-asses. It was fierce mocking talk, with only a trace or envy or awe, but even so the image played itself out behind their own eyes”(22). Azar and the others can relate how it must feel to release anger during the war and some may be going through the same and emotions are expressed without even knowing.

When angry, feelings are expressed in a wrong way or inappropriate place, like hurting someone or something physically. Like Rat, his best friend Curt Lemon died by stepping onto a mortar round . “[Rat] shot it in the hindquarters and in the little hump at its back. He shot it twice in the flanks. It wasn’t to kill; it was to hurt”(79). Rat expresses his anger in a wrong place by injuring an innocent buffalo, a way of releasing his anger.

To heal from his friends death Rat injures the water buffalo so that it feels pain as well. Most people are capable of anything like to kill or make someone happy. In this case revenge is a way of hurting or getting back at someone who has treated another the same in return. Tim O’brien was upset at the new medic Bobby Jorgenson because he wasn’t capable of treating his shock. In result Tim wanted to get his revenge by scaring him and realized “I’d turn mean inside. Even a little cruel at times. For all my education, all my fine liberal values, I now felt a deep coldness inside me, something dark and beyond reason. It’s a hard thing to admit, even to myself, but I was capable of evil”(200). In order to express emotion is to not always expect what your suppose to feel. Many get mad naturally and express their emotions as it comes.

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Over time the soldiers in Vietnam ponder over some memories from home and childhood. Some have items from home which are used as lucky charms or held religiously. While out on the battlefield, Henry Dobbins “liked putting his nose and breathing in the scent of his girlfriend’s body; he liked the memories this inspired; sometimes he slept with the stockings up against his face..”(117).

Henry kept the pantyhose with him because it gave him a familiarity of his girlfriend back home which kept him going and thinking. Before the war Jimmy Cross had a crush on this girl named Martha so “In the late afternoon after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending”(1). Jimmy Cross’s letters from Martha gives him an image of back home. Reading these letters give him a connection to her and feels like he’s there with her. These memories help the soldiers get a sort of comfort from these items because it gets them to not always think about the war. Knowing that Jimmy, Henry, and all the others have something waiting for them back home. It ease’s their pain of stress and freight.

All the soldiers like Jimmy Cross, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Azar, Norman Bowker and many others had to deal with the horrific conditions of the war. Many slept through the dirt and rain during the monsoon’s which lasted no more than 4 months every night. The rains would come into their tents and flood up to their thighs. The waste’s like toilet waste came into their tents as well. When on the battlefield they had to watch out for mortar rounds, grenades and the enemy.

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The enemy is Elusive to the men, it was unclear because they don’t know who the enemy is. They had to cope with the weather, trying to sleep and not get killed at the same time. The feelings of these men mattered because it was like being in a world that hits them directly and it makes them think “am I going to die?”, “will I get shot?”, “will I be able to go back home?”. With these thoughts, one gains strength, confidence, instinct, and a lot of precaution, Just everything they need to survive emotionally and physically. Being put into war is a very hard job and these men have made it far enough.

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The Things They Carried Essay. (2021, Jan 25). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from