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The things they carried pose a painful account of the experiences and traumatic events of the soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. In a well interwoven piece that uses memoir, fiction, and reality, the emotional baggage of the lost soldiers in the war is represented by those who survived. The things that they carried such as the, “good luck charms” show their lost innocence, their narrowed survival chances, and despair as they joined the war. Though the stories are different pieces that can stand pretty well on their own, O’Brien unifies them to produce one long story that has uniform characters, themes and plot. Thus, the central argument in this context revolves around the literary devices that were adopted by Tim O’Brien to make the reading of this text, a worthwhile experience.
The name of this story symbolizes the many things that soldiers who went to fight in the Vietnam War carried. The metaphorical aspect of the title carries more weight as we see most of the major characters carry fear and guilt in their hearts, a burden whose weight lasts in history. The physical objects and weapons symbolize the nature of war and immediately tell the reader the mood and the tone of the story as sad and anxious. Along the same line of thought, and through the use of imagery, Tim O’Brien presents graphical descriptions of the reality of war (O’Brien, 1990, p. 21). These descriptions form the lenses through which the reader sees and perceives the stories as the author intended.
Through this feature, Tim achieves the “unity of thought” which is an aspect of a successful literary piece. Though this text brings into live the memories of a war that occurred over three decades ago, it portrays the physical and economic damages as well as the emotional trauma that came tagged to the soldiers and their families (O’Brien, 1990, p.23). The fact that some characters in the story took tranquilizers to calm down their nerves clearly depicts that, the war period was depressive to the soldiers and the world at large. A closer look at the events in the story, the reader will see that the soldiers are mere metaphorical artifacts to represent us. The soldiers blame themselves for the death of their counterparts. Just like the soldiers, we carry love, memories and grief of those who die in the war. The war also depicts the inhumanity involved in that, many commit evils and crimes in the name of war.
In a creative way, O’Brien criticizes the aspect of war indirectly by using the events that occurred and leaves the burden of reflection on what’s wrong or right, human or inhuman, in the shoulders of the readers. Conflict is used wisely in deploying the intangible things that the soldiers carried to the war zone in Vietnam. For instance, many of them were afraid to go to the war but they carried the cowardice with them and acted like all was okay. Tim O’Brien, the protagonist and the narrator in the story ran away from home just to avoid joining the war but the fear of his family’s reaction convinced him change his mind (O’Brien, 1990, p.77). In addition, the use of artifacts that the soldiers carried is quite confusing. From one side, one may think that the author is being sentimental towards the war, while on the other side; he uses them to magnify the character while at the same time enhancing the character understanding of the reader.
Repetition is used in the story as a development tool. O’Brien ensures that the characters reappear in many stories within this collection. This is to form an everlasting instinct on the readers’ part in order to keep a profile of each character all through the story without losing track. Repetition also allows the reader to reflect back and see the memories behind the soldiers. For instance, lavender is constantly thinking of Martha; a girl in college many years back. Through this, he successfully achieves character development as the reader follows the characters all through the story.
However, every good piece receives criticism and O’Brien’s piece is not exceptional. Some assert that the themes in this story seek to portray narration and the reality. Though this story comes out as an excellent literary exhibit and as cannon of Vietnam War, it is more of oral story telling than literature. Following its structure, readers who are not very keen will be lost as they transit from one story to the next. It has thus been accused of ambiguity and complexity on the readers’ part. In addition, most of the stories are gender biased. In the 21st Century where issues of gender equality are on the forefront, Tim O’Brien piece will not pass for literature study. This is because other than gender variation, alienation is well pronounced in the stories for the war veterans who feel that the wartime memories will forever chase them.
In conclusion and from a general stance, this context, accounts for the events of the Vietnam War in a brilliant manner to portray responsibility, shame, courage, cowardice and nightmare. Most of the soldiers were paranoid and disillusioned: Their sense of justice and morality is challenged by the anger that has developed within them in the struggling years. O’Brien employs simple diction that can be understood by the average population thus accommodating his target audience. His expertise can be seen in how he incorporates military jargon that presents evidence that he was part of the war. The reader believes in the narrator as he is in the scene where these events are occurring. All these in conjunction with his outstanding imagery makes the story an interesting piece that perfectly fits in its historical context.
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