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The war, without a doubt, truly affects First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, who suffers from recollections of battlefield experiences both during and after the war. Cross, a young and immature boy, enrolls into the war to receive college credits and because his friends are enrolling as well. However, he has no desire to be a team leader, and as a result, he is very unprepared for the atrocities of war he encounters. For example, Kiowaï¿½s sudden and senseless death profoundly affects Cross. Upon learning of this death, Cross concludes that he made a mistake camping on the dangerous riverbank, a blunder that will last with him for the rest of his life. The Lieutenant guiltily thinks to himself, ï¿½[I] shouldï¿½ve [followed my] first impulseï¿½and headed for higher groundï¿½No excusesï¿½ (161). Despite his efforts to write a meaningful letter to the fallen soldierï¿½s father, Lieutenant Crossï¿½ sense of guilt illustrates that the weight of responsibility is debilitating for the inexperienced soldiers of Vietnam and can have boundless effects on their lives. Moreover, Crossï¿½ distraction of whether or not his girlfriend is a virgin proves fatal. When Lavender, one of the soldiers of Alpha Company, is on his way back from the bathroom, an enemy shoots the soldier, lethally injuring him. Even though, at the time, Cross cannot think of anything else besides his girlfriend, Lavenderï¿½s death proves to be one of the most vivid and guilt-filling memories Cross holds to this day. After burning the two photographs of his girlfriend, Cross says to himself, ï¿½Lavender is dead. You canï¿½t burn the blameï¿½ (22). By this stage of the war, Lieutenant Cross understands that with responsibility comes blame. In this case of bad judgment, the blame falls on Cross. While some soldiers keep their memories of war inside themselves, Cross uses a technique similar to the authorï¿½s for dealing with this burden of blame: he expresses his emotions through words. By writing a letter in his head to Kiowaï¿½s father and taking the responsibility for Lavenderï¿½s death, he successfully uses Oï¿½Brienï¿½s storytelling tactic to alleviate some of his feelings of guilt. As one can see, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross suffers immensely from his guilt and recollections of war, but he finds a way through words to alleviate some of the guilt that has been mounting inside of him.
In addition, Norman Bowker suffers immensely from the effects of the battlefield. From the time when he continuously circles around the lake in his hometown of Iowa to his lengthy letter to Oï¿½Brien, the reader clearly notices that the war has had a profound impact on the life of Bowker. For instance, Bowker worries that Kiowaï¿½s death signifies Bowkerï¿½s betrayal of his friend. Norman retains this sense of guilt since he did not pull Kiowaï¿½s body out of the mud when Kiowa was sinking. The narrator shows Bowkerï¿½s reminiscence of this guilt by saying, ï¿½He pulled hard but Kiowa was gone, and then suddenly he felt himself going, tooï¿½ (143). In the literal sense, one can see Bowkerï¿½s ï¿½goingï¿½ as him sinking deeper into the field. However, in the figurative meaning, the reader can recognize that leaving Kiowa signifies the start of Bowkerï¿½s journey down a path of guilt since he could not prevent Kiowa from drowning. Furthermore, Bowkerï¿½s guilt festers inside himself since he is unable to share his guilt with the outside world. The narrator ponders about Bowker not being able to talk about his war experiences by saying, ï¿½He wished he couldï¿½ve explained some of this, [but] he could not talk about it and never wouldï¿½ (147). Whereas Oï¿½Brien and Cross are successful at sharing their stories to alleviate their guilt, Bowker is unable to use the technique of storytelling to subdue the trauma of war. As a result of not being able to leave his harrowing recollections behind him, these effects of war accumulate inside Bowkerï¿½s mind to the point of him committing suicide. For these reasons, Oï¿½Brienï¿½s novel truly shows the tremendous effects the war has on soldiers like Norman Bowker, and because of his inability to share his stories with others, Bowker is unable to alleviate the pain and guilt festering inside of him.
Finally, the novel makes an important statement about the impact of war and how to avoid its ongoing emotional consequences. Throughout his short stories, Oï¿½Brien utilizes the technique of using words to explain his emotions in order to rid himself of the horrendous memories of war. From the stories of Lieutenant Cross, the reader also learns that he, too, implements this method in an effort to return to a normal, stable life. However, Norman Bowker is unable to share his war recollections, and as a result, kills himself in his attempt to return to life before the war. Thus, throughout the novel, Oï¿½Brien makes a key statement that sharing memories is the most effective way to cope with the horrifying emotional effects of war.
To conclude, Oï¿½Brienï¿½s The Things They Carried truly addresses the effects of war not only on soldiers on the battlefield but also on their lives at home. Oï¿½Brienï¿½s use of First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and Private Norman Bowker to show the effects that the Vietnam War has had on these two soldiers effectively illustrates the emotional and psychological impact that war can have on its subjects. However, even though Bowker never had a chance to do so, Oï¿½Brien clearly shows that writing about war stories, which he has done, helps alleviate the pain of the memories of the battlefield. Therefore, in the end, Jose Narosky is correct: war leaves no soldier unscathed.