The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Published 18 Aug 2016

Life since the beginning of time has always been about the survival of the fittest. Two short stories “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien and “War” by Luigi Pirandello show how the survival of the fittest takes precedence over other factors in life. Comparing these two stories one can easily see there is a complex relationship between them. This paper will compare and contrast the differences of these two short and how they interact to create a complex relationship.

In “The Things They Carried” Tim O’Brien goes into great detail to explain all the luggage individuals carry in their lives. Setting the story in the war in Vietnam only helps to illustrate this principal. The actual articles that the soldiers carry help to represent the burdens and trapped emotions that each individual must carry in order to survive the war. The struggles the soldiers face daily and the environments they encounter as they march through foreign lands carrying items that will sustain and protect their lives provides challenges they never thought would occur.

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O’Brien mentions the age range of the soldiers as being in their twenties. By doing so he is expressing the uncertainties of life that a young male must face. The questions that are presented in the story about whether a certain girl loves the main character Lieutenant Jimmy Cross are played throughout the whole story. This struggle between duty and frustrating emotions causes Jimmy Cross to feel lost and alone in an environment that is very harsh and almost unbearable.

As the leader of his soldiers, the internal struggle Jimmy Cross faces between his duty of ensuring safety for his troops and the longing for a relationship with Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey, express a real struggle someone of his age would face. The internal battle grows as the story progresses showing not only his loss of drive for his duties but almost a hatred for them. The story climaxes when one of Jimmy Cross’ soldiers is killed while he was daydreaming about Martha.

Throughout the story, the description of the weight and details of each item the individual soldiers carry is expressed to create a very powerful understanding of how much of a burden these items are to the soldiers. In particular the letters and pictures of Martha that Jimmy Cross carries become just such a burden. These items have proven to be a distraction more than a sustainer or protector of his life. The death of Ted Lavender caused Cross’ emotions to change. The hurt and anguish that Cross felt at his responsibility to ensure the safety of his soldiers and the blame his placed on himself for daydreaming while Lavender got shot created a complete change in his personality. By the end of the story Cross burned the letters and pictures of Martha and changed his point of view on his duties to move more direct and take his position more seriously ending the story as the soldiers march on to their next destination.

This change in the main character of O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” can also be seen in a different perspective in the story “War” by Luigi Pirandello. Pirandello looks at the perspective of war from the parent’s point of view. His story opens with passengers joining a group of individuals on a train heading to a location to say goodbye to their son who is about to be sent off to war. As the story progresses an understanding that the other passengers have sons in the war or have lost sons in the war comes out. The mother who is traveling to say goodbye to her only son is heartbroken and extremely emotional over the situation.

As conversation begins, one gentleman points out how his son has died and that he does mourn due to the letter he received from his son about being happy to be twenty years old and dying for his country. This gentleman expresses how his is happy that his son has never had to experience all the tortures life holds for so many. He mentions that by dying at an early age his son was relieved of a majority of the pain one endures by growing old. He also explains to the crowd that his son belongs to his country and not to him, but yet the father does belong to the son. Upon many other interactions between the passengers, agreement is made upon the explanations this father has made.

The mother of the only son thinks about how she must have been wrong in all her thoughts about letting her son go away to the war. Her son volunteered to take this danger into his life. She thinks about how she must have been the one wrong when all her friends and family tried to comfort her, but nothing they said would help. She then realizes that maybe she wasn’t wrong and looks at the gentleman who lost his son. She says “Then…is your son really dead?” To this, the gentleman had no response. He just looked at her speechless and as the truth of the situation settled, in on him, he broke down into sobs of uncontrollable pain. The emotions he has bottled up finally broke free and were released and this is where the story ends.

These two stories create a complex relationship between each other by showing the same emotions expressed from two very different sides of the conflict. O’Brien shows the emotional conflict from the frontline of the soldiers and how complex the emotions one carries can become an overwhelming burden until dealt with. In Pirandello’s story the emotional conflict is viewed from that of the parent and try as hard as one might, the love for their child is always stronger than life itself. Looking at these to stories the initial shift from one emotional outlook on life to another creates not only the plot of the story, but the expression of life and the struggles humanity deals with on a daily basis.

The complex relationship between the two is these two stories could easily be put together one after the other in a book without the writers being mentioned and one would think that they come from the same story. Minor details about location would be a factor, but the principal roles each story show connects to the other. The two different viewpoints overlap to create a complete picture of the war and the feelings that arise from any and all individuals who are impacted by war. The complex relationship continues to show as multiple characters in each story struggle with their own needs and desires against the needs and desires of others. This struggle continues until a realization or transformation of the characters is accomplished. When this realization occurs the individuals are changed permanently for the good or worse.

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