The Things They Carried
Love is something that everyone desires, but when the thought of love takes over your thought process; it can be very dangerous. First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross knows the feeling of love and its dangerous effects. Lieutenant Cross is currently at war in Vietnam and he is repeatedly visited by the thought of his lover Martha. Martha is a student at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey, and this is where the lieutenant fell in love. He took her to a movie and during the movie he felt her knee, but she disapproved.
After the movie, he kissed her before dropping her off, and the image of his lips pressed against hers was the start of one of many distractions in the war. Memories of love can be a motivation but mainly a distraction at the same time. Every night after the lieutenant’s platoon had finished traveling, Cross would dig himself a foxhole and sit reading Martha’s letters to him, fantasizing that they were love letters.
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During these sessions in his foxhole, he would imagine them traveling together on long romantic trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. When he was finished reading the letters, he would read, “Love Martha. He wished that her saying love meant that she loved him as much as he loved he loved her, but he knew that it did not mean what he pretended it to be. After reading all of the letters, “He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing that her tongue had been there” (O’Brien 2). This is only one of the many excessive thought he would do because he loved Martha so much. Instead of commanding his men to be on night patrol or be aware, his love for Martha would distract him and grasp hold of him refusing to let go until he was willing to relinquish the fantasy of Martha’s love.
In the first week of April, before one of the lieutenant’s men, Lavender, had been shot, Cross received a good luck stone from Martha. A simple pebble found by the seashore, but that pebble was far from a simple pebble and a good luck charm to Lieutenant Cross. Instead, that pebble was the biggest distraction to Cross so far. When she found the pebble she wrote to him, “…Found the pebble on the Jersey shoreline, precisely where the land touched water at high tide, where things came together but also separated” (O’Brien 4).
When Martha wrote separate-but-together, it made Cross think that it was romantic, and therefore a humongous distraction. He pictured what she looked like bending over to pick up the small pebbles at the shoreline, but then he wondered who she was with. He became jealous and wished he had been there when she found the pebble. Later in the war, he was unable to keep his mind in the battle. He would yell out to his men to keep their eyes open, and then the next second his mind would slip into a day dream of how he wished that he was on the shoreline with Martha; distracting him once again.
In the same day that Lavender was killed in the war, the lieutenant and his men leaned over a tunnel to investigate it, when all of a sudden the tunnel collapsed with him and his soldier Lee Strunk still in it. The accident happened so quickly burying them and then his love for Martha consumed his thoughts, “He tried to concentrate on Lee Strunk and the war, and all the dangers, but his love was too much for him, he felt paralyzed” (O’Brien 5). He was not paralyzed by the crushing rocks, but by the crushing of his obsessive love and how he wishes to be with her.
This distraction nearly took his and Lee Strunk’s life. Lieutenant Cross’ all-consuming love for Martha did not survive much longer. The next day when the helicopter came to resupply and pick up Lavender’s dead body, Cross had a realization. He realized that Martha has been a distraction in the war, and his distraction cost Lavender his life. After the helicopter took off, Cross went into a mental breakdown. He dug himself his usual foxhole, but instead of reading Martha’s letters, he burned them because, “He felt shame. He hated himself.
He had loved Martha more than his men and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war,” (O’Brien 124). Cross finally realized that Martha was holding him back from his duty as a lieutenant. He knew that burning her letters would not bring Lavender back, or even stop him from loving her, but he knew that it would help him stay more focused on the war and his men by no longer having the tangible evidence of his fantasy in his possession.
After that night, he took more command of his soldiers and spoke to them with confidence as a leader. He mapped out a new route for them to take and was much more cautious. His men knew that he was in charge and that he would not let another one of his soldiers fall if he could help it. Lieutenant Cross’ immense love for Martha was a huge distraction that nearly cost him his life. It cost Lavender his life and could have potentially cost more lives if Lieutenant Cross did not realize that his love for Martha was such a distraction.
Many soldiers, like Cross, Cling to a loved one at home, making the horrors of war tolerable knowing someone at home cares if they return. Cross’ love is dangerous as a distraction, but also as a fragile thread based on hope rather than reality. He needs that love to function should he return home safely, but in building his hopes for post-war happiness he is distracted from his present. Love is a powerful force which needs to be used as a motivation and not a distraction. If Cross would have used love as a motivation instead of a distraction, he would have always led his men with confidence and potentially saving Lavender’s life.