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An Analysis of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

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    “If you travel with fraud, you reach your destination, but are unable to return” (Ghanaian proverb). What are the assumptions underlying this quote? How possible is it to undo the bad we do? This proverb describes one of the significant themes in The Things They Carried. It describes the mental and emotional burden the soldiers are forced to carry throughout their lives as a result of the atrocities they committed during the Vietnamese War.

    This proverb is assuming that the soldiers had in fact committed crimes against their moral code. However, if these soldiers were able to justify these crimes by their own standard of morality, then they would be able to move on. Another evident assumption is that the soldiers reached their destination. Many of the soldiers never truly understood the motives in interfering in the Vietnamese Civil War and for this reason they were mindlessly obeying with neither a sense of purpose nor moral gratification.

    This would be the most dangerous factor in damaging their psyche in that it made the soldiers more susceptible to trauma. For the narrator, Tim O’Brien, partaking in the Vietnamese War went against his ideals as a liberalist. The only reason he participated in the war was to prevent being viewed as a coward by society. Even this cause was a weak purpose and would not be able to justify the atrocities that some of the commands forced the soldiers to commit.

    It was for this reason that years later the soldiers found themselves traumatized, as they were unable to receive closure for the crimes they had committed during the war. An example of this continuous burden was evident through Jimmy Cross who years later had ‘never forgiven himself for Lavender’s death’ . It is never truly possible to undo the bad an individual has done, as you can never wind the hand of time to go back to the past and change the decisions you made along with the consequences they had.

    It is however possible to accept your fault and seek redemption and forgiveness thereby relieving the burden of your mistake. The narrator, Tim O’Brien, takes his daughter back to the ‘shit-field’ in Vietnam, where he wades through the muck to bury Kiowa’s moccasins where he died. Symbolically speaking, Tim O’Brien wading through the muck signifies his baptism, which is as much a plea for forgiveness as it is seeking redemption by showing respect to Kiowa, who was a religious person.

    This forgiveness gives Tim O’Brien closure and allows him to better cope with the guilt. Another person who seeks redemption in a similar way is Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. After Ted Lavender’s death, Jimmy Cross burns Martha’s letters as a form of redemption. He feels guilty for getting distracted by thoughts of Martha when Ted Lavender dies and so by burning the letters he is rededicating his mind to his platoon. Ultimately, the guilt from going against ones ideals may never truly fade, but the trauma can be eased.

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