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The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien: Quotations

The Things They Carried

“The things they carried were largely determined by necessities” (O’Brien 2).

“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried” (O’Brien 7).

“They carried their own lives. The pressures were enormous” (O’Brien 15).

“They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment.” (O’Brien 20).

This quotation from the first short story, “The Things They Carried” is apart of a longer explanation stating that men do not go to war because they want to be heros, but rather they go because they do not want to be seen as cowardice or refuse this type of work. There are many motifs present in this story that help to reveal the theme. Towards the beginning of this short story, O’Brien explains the physical bearings that the soldiers have to endure during the war. For instance, he explains that based on each duty, each soldier will have different weapons that have unique physical weights. Towards the middle and the end of this short story, he explains the emotional bearings that the soldiers have to carry around with them. Martha, who is Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’ love, is frequently mentioned throughout. He carries his love for her through pictures of her, and for a short amount of time, he carries a pebble that she gave him. Even though Cross knows that Martha will never love him back, he still keeps her in the back of his mind as something that he can hold onto as hope for when the war is over. The overall themes of physical and emotional burdens, along with the fear of shame as motivation are revealed through the soldiers experiences and memories, past and present, and their emotions; love, fear, longing, and terror.

How to Tell a True War Story

“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen” (O’Brien 67).

“In a true war story, if there’s a moral at all, it’s like the thread that makes cloth. You can’t tease it out. You can’t extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning” (O’Brien 74).

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“To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace” (O’Brien 77).

“In war you lose your sense of the definite, hence your sense of truth itself, and therefore it’s safe to say that in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true” (O’Brien 78).

This quote is from the short story, “How to Tell a True War Story.” This story goes into detail about how war stories can easily get twisted in the mind of the soldiers because they are focused on many things at one time and they can get distracted from the facts of what happened, to what seemed to have happened. Every story has an element of false information to it, depending on a person’s perspective. This idea relates back to one of the common themes of this novel being physical and emotional burden that can be seen in this chapter; the emotional burdens especially. Male soldiers who go to war are young, nineteen to twenty-five years of age. They are used to living with their families and hanging out with friends on the weekends. And to suddenly have to be grown up and take responsibilities that could lead to their own death, or the death of a friend can make them feel emotionally unstable. This short story frequently discusses the story of Curt Lemon who was nineteen years of age, and his best friend, Rat Kiley. They would play with smoke grenades in the forest and one day, Curt Lemon died from a mine on the ground because he was backing up to catch the grenade. For months, Rat Kiley was distort and alone, so he decided to write his burden of emotions on a letter and send it to Lemon’s sister. Kiley was even more mad when she never wrote back. Frequent mentions in this chapter also include Mitchell Saunders’ yo-yo which he plays with when he is not doing work. This is his way to remember his roots and is a playful distraction from reality. To conclude, the theme of emotional burdens can be seen the young members of the war and they have to work the hardest to focus on the work and forget about their past struggles.

In the Field

“The filth seemed to erase identities, transforming the men into identical copies of a single soldier, which was exactly how Jimmy Cross had been trained to treat them, as interchangeable units of commands” (O’Brien 156).

“The young soldier was trying hard not to cry” (O’Brien 162).

“He was alone. He’s lost everything. He’s lost Kiowa and his weapon and his flashlight and his girlfriend’s picture. He remembered this. He remembered wondering if he could lose himself” (O’Brien 164).

In the short story “In the Field”, O’Brien talks about what it was like in the rain and mud and how they lost Kiowa. Kiowa’s death occurs when a young soldier, who is unnamed, switches on his flashlight to show Kiowa a picture of his “girlfriend”. Because of the flashlight, the enemy team got an idea of their location and started to fire mortars towards them. This killed Kiowa and the young soldiers picture went missing. Along with his weapons and gear. The next day, the young soldier is frantic and he searches for the image that wrapped in plastic. Lieutenant Cross assumes that he is searching for Kiowa and reminds him that he is gone. The young soldier corrects him and says he is looking for the photograph. Since that night, the young soldier’s physical belongings that he carried with him are replaced with guilt and grief. His emotions are taking over and Lieutenant cross understands that the picture was the only thing left for the young soldier that gave him hope and something to look forward to in the future.

“In the field though, the causes were immediate. A moment of carelessness or bad judgement or plain stupidity carried consequences that lasted forever” (O’Brien 170).

Work Cited

  1. OBrien, Tim. The Things They Carried. First Mariner Books Edition, 2009. 

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