"The Things They Carried" is one of finest novel written on Vietnam War by Tim O Brien. It is not a simple war story having the elements of pride and glory; rather it is a sympathetic tale of American soldiers full with honesty and thoughtful kind.
Tim O' Brian explains in his novel "The Things They Carried' about a group of soldiers who marches to Vietnam. During Vietnam, the soldiers were chosen for the war. Many families have to loose their young boys because they have to leave their homes and train for the war. In this novel, the writer portrays the burden or weight; the soldiers carry during the war. He tells about the items which are closely associated with the physical, psychological and emotional weight that each of them carries with him during the march. Soldiers carry the items tangible and intangible in nature depending upon the individual soldier. They take the essential necessities for survival. Beside them also bearing the burden of memories, feelings, emotions and fair and these are the intangible items. These intangible items are the center of focus in this story. The burden of these intangible items is equally important and original as that of tangible items. Like the physical items which they carried for their survival, these abstract items can not be shed away.
O' Brian frequently described the items to tell how much the tangible and intangible items weight. "The weapon weighted 7.5 pounds unloaded, 8.2 pounds with its full twenty round magazines. The rifle man carried anywhere from twelve to twenty magazines â€¦ adding on another 8.4 pounds at minimum, 14 pounds at maximum." This describes to the reader about the burden that soldiers are taking in carrying these items. Much consideration is given to the weight and stress the soldiers feel from the burden they are carrying and as well as from external forces such as nature. "They carried the sky. The whole atmosphereâ€¦ they carried gravity." Brian describes that the man feel the greatest weight of his emotions and memories rather than physical things. "Grieve, terror, love, longing, these intangibles, but the intangibles have their own mass and specific gravity, they have tangible weight." Tim explains that these intangibles stuff is the heaviest because it can not be disposed off. Physical weight can be discarded but emotional burden can not be avoided. Brian speaks about the cowardice "In many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down".
The soldiers are well aware of the fact that they can not get rid themselves of the fear because of their abstract nature but still they dream about escape and falling higher and higher free of weight. Jimmy Cross, a character of this novel, tries to get rid of his intangible burden by disposing off tangible things. He burns all the letters recieved from his lover Martha. He knows that he may get rid of these tangible burden but the memories, intangible, can not be disposed off. "He realized it was only a gestureâ€¦ besides, the letter was in his head." Memories of Martha were also attached with a pebble which she gave to Jimmy. The pebble weighs hardly an ounce and can easily be thrown away but the memories and emotions attached are much heavier attached to this piece of stone which can not be got rid. By disposing off the tangible items, Cross tries to be a better soldier and Brien leaves all this up to Cross whether he achieve his aim. We suppose that he will never be completely free from his emotion and love he carries for Martha. Henry Dobbins, another soldier is a big man who loves to eat and carries the extra food during the war. Ted Lavender was a coward man so he took tranquilizers until he was shot and killed. Dave Jensen was conscious about diseases so he was always having soap and tooth brush. Kiowa, being a religious Baptist, always carried a Bible. Mitchell Sanders carries condoms. Norma Bowker took a diary and Rat Kiley has comic books. Besides this, all of them have helmets, boots and other necessities.
Brien depicts in "The Things They Carried" that soldiers carries many things on their shoulders and in their heads during their march. All of the things they carried are having a great burden but emotions are heaviest of them. Soldiers carry great burdens of their memories, desires and fear these intangibles loads are necessary part of them, so can not be put down, but they carry and bear. Jimmy Cross realizes, "It was very sadâ€¦ the things men carry inside."
The weight of feelings and experiences during the war in terms of psychological burdens continue even after war was over. The soldiers who survived are carrying the guilt, sorrow, confusion and the stories are with them. Jimmy thinks about Martha continuously and he was never sure that Martha thinks the same for him. One day when Jimmy was thinking about Martha, there was shot burst in the jungle when the shot seized he realized that one of his men was shot dead. It was Ted Lavender. From that day, Jimmy did not forgive himself for Ted's death. He thinks that his fascination for Martha unfocused his core aim and it led to the death of his companion. So that night Jimmy burnt all the memories of Martha with him. He knew that he is just disposing off the tangible items; memories are still in his head. After the war, Jimmy is bearing the great load of Lavender's death for this he blames himself feels guilty.
Tim is 43 years old now and has become a writer but still he can not forget the scenes of his friend's death like Kiowa and Curt Lemon, during the war. Tim killed a man one night when he and another soldier were stationed in the jungle brush to watch guard. He still feels embarrassment for this act and even he can not speak truth in front of her daughter. Her daughter who is nine asked Tim that whether he has ever killed anyone. She knows the meaning of war and also knows that her father was involved in it. Tim was hesitant to tell truth to her daughter so he denied. But Tim thought that easy way to tell her daughter is through writing, so he devoted entire three chapters for the explanation of that horrible experience. Tim thinks that stories connect the past with the future. These help you to understand who are you and where you are going.
Norman Bowker another soldier who is among the survivors of the Vietnam War thinks about when the squad camped in a ground near a village which turned to be the village bathroom. It started raining which made the air smell very bad because of feces. When the squad realized their mistake, shots were fired, the soldiers were under attack. The entire squad dove under the sewage for cover. During the firing, Norman heard the screaming for help of his companion Kiowa who was sinking into the sewage. Norman tried to help him by pulling him out. But the muck became too much to bear. He was unable to pull him out. He let him go physically but the memories never able him to let go. In his mind, there is always the fear that he let go Kiowa when he was still alive. He feels confusion and grief and these are so strong that he walked around in his home town after war aimlessly. The war separated Norman from all those and everything he wants to be close to. He knew that no body in the town will understand his feelings and experiences, so he did not talk to anyone. His emotions were endless and cyclical but he could not get rid of them. He spent a lot of time with these horrible memories but finally he hanged himself in the locker room of a YMCA in his hometown. After the death of Norman, Tim received a letter from Norman in which he explained how he could not achieve a meaningful use of his life after the war.
In the end, the physical things which soldiers were carried during the Vietnam War were irrelevant to the harsh experiences of war. Those who survived are carrying psychological burdens alone. They wish to leave behind that period in their lives. Unfortunately, none of them is able to forget the memories burden even after the war which has the greater weight. All those people Tim lost during the Vietnam combat have given him a new idea and understanding of death. He has been writing about them since twenty years, now he has slowly and steadily realized that they are not really dead, although they are alive in his memory, imaginations and emotions. He has gone through the phase of losing his friends, so understands the pain, and the guilt of killing his enemy. But he also knows that his stories keep all of them alive.