Posted: June 14th, 2021

“The Things They Carried” By Tim O`Brien

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The beauty of this story is in its subtlety and depth. The most interesting inquiry of all as regards this piece is how Martha’s letters and pictures come to play in the story. The letters and pictures may symbolize hope or even false hope, despair, distraction, confusion, love or others. The answer depends on whether one views the story as about war, love, some days in the life of Jimmy Cross or other possible themes around which the story may revolve. Based on the way the story was told, these theories and interpretations are all possible.

What caught my attention in particular, in relation to Martha’s letters and pictures, are the enumeration of the reasons and purposes people in the story carry the things they do. All of these purposes revolve around the fact that “they carry things by necessity” (p. 714). Even those which they carry by superstition (p. 717) may be deemed to have been carried as a necessity because these things help them acquire courage and belief, if not in their victory, in their survival. However, among all the things he carried, Jimmy Cross carries Martha’s love letters.

Is this really necessary? This may not even qualify as superstition because there does not appear any belief on his part that the letters will provide him some protection from the war. At this point, the author effectively created an inconsistency that is too subtle to be noticed, but is too important that the story revolves around it. The story is also filled with enumerations of the things they carried. However, it is interesting that, while it constitutes the bulk of the story, this enumeration is actually not the story itself.
It is included merely to demonstrate the inconsistency mentioned and thus give further emphasis to the value of Martha’s letters for Jimmy and for the story. I also admire the author for being able to tell the story and convey the emotions of the characters through descriptions of what are happening rather than through direct statements of the emotions felt, thus allowing the readers freedom to interpret and visualize. An example of this is the author’s description of Martha during her volleyball accident (p. 715) and the description of the things carried by different people in the story.
1. What do you think is the author’s purpose in stating more than once in the story that Martha signed her letters and pictures with Love, but that he knew better that this is just a customary way of signing a letter and does not really mean anything? Is this to show that Martha does not love Jimmy? Is it to create doubt as to whether Martha does not really love Jimmy? What other purposes can there be? 2. This story enumerates many material things men carry at war. However, in one part of the story (p. 724), the author wrote the sentence “[t]he things men carried inside.
What does the author mean by this? What are the things men carried inside? Relate this to the statement ate the end of the story that “their days would seem longer and their loads heavier” (p. 725). 3. React on this statement. “[H]is obligation was not to be loved but to lead” (p. 725). Is it possible to dispense with love completely? Can a person in a war lead and be loved at the same time? Is there room for love when there is war? Work Cited O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Carried (1986). ” Worlds of Fiction. Ed. Rubinstein and Larson. Macmillan Coll Div, 1993. 713-725.

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