about “The Things They Carried”

O’Brien, the protagonist of “The Things They Carried,” deftly portrays the lives of soldiers while on the campaign. The plot revolves around the soldiers who go to war in Vietnam, led by a 22-year-old Lieutenant named Jimmy Cross. O’Brien vividly describes the items soldiers hold based on the type of battle, terrain, length of the fighting, and rank (Marlantes: O’Brien). When presented with truth and death, those things reflect insecurity, humanity, and hardship. The back contents represent the physical, mental, and social sacrifices that must be made. In the novel, Jimmy Cross brings a “love note” from Martha, her boyfriend (Marlantes). Despite claiming that Martha’s letters are chatty, he could not resist checking the foxhole frequently. In this paper, I will show how the items Jimmy Cross carried to war affected his concentration during the war.

To start with, besides the mission items, Jimmy Cross carries with him love letter from Germany to Vietnam. His disbelief in Martha’s love makes him peruse the letter frequently throughout the day. The author tells us that in one way or the other, Lieutenant kept distracted from the realities of the world. Sweet words like, ‘Love Martha,’ ‘Take care’ would let him fantasized the whole day of when he would be able to return the feelings (O’Brien). His worries if Martha was a virgin or not. These instances uncontrollably take the most time of the lieutenant of manipulating the maps and giving directions. Lieutenant Cross takes the death account on himself. He remained out of the tunnel to protect the other soldiers while Lavender is shot at his back. This evidence shows that his conscious was not present at the time of death.

The backpack symbolizes superstition. The repetitive illustration of the death of Ted Lavender projects how death is cruel despite which ammunition you carry. Remember, Lavender, rolled up extra ammo and M-16 for fear of death (O’Brien 495). The mentally to lose towards opponents instills more fear in the team making them wear extra pounds of boots. Military mission depends on courage one has on his tools. Various team members feeling prompted them to carry different contents in the backpack instead of military gears. Mitchell Sanders brings with her condoms. Jensen took ‘toothbrush, dental floss, soap and tranquilizers’ (O’Brien 494: Marlantes). The selection of items to carry could determine the emotions and feelings before the war.

The things brought represent ranks and responsibilities. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is at the highest rank; therefore, he carries a powerful gun and comprehensive maps to protect his soldiers and give directions respectively. Kiley, a doctor by profession, loads his bag with medical supplies usable during an injury. Other ordinary soldiers load themselves with standard M-16 ammunition except for Lavender who request for more but was shot while peeing (O’Brien). The excerpt shows us that not in a war mission not what we carry that change our feelings towards the world, but they determine who we are.

The urge to return love for Martha makes Lieutenant Jimmy stay away from the tunnel to survive the explosion. The rebel caught him unaware fantasizing about Martha and shoots Lavender. O’Brien tells us that Martha’s love has always been a fantasy with Jimmy only getting a touch to the knee only (O’Brien 494: Marlantes). The two pictures painted a rich world of fantasy that let to the loss of fellow comrade’s life. On this account, he was held responsible and could now differentiate between reality and fantasy. Life has been lost. He had to make a lasting solution to save his men lives. Eventually, he decided to quit daydreaming and burnt the letters and photos. The death count was on his head, and he had to take responsibility and maintain order. The mind change emanated from photographs he carried.

The cross letter and photos created some instance of fear and care. Martha wrote the letter out of pity in case she loses Jimmy Cross (O’Brien). The expressions like “Your Love,” “Take Care” made Jimmy descend from leading the troops to giving orders from behind. Mark, you was the one with maps. Had he analyzed the plans before Lavender had not gone to pee, he would have saved a life (O’Brien 494: Marlantes). Lieutenant Cross felt guilty of absconding duty of securing the perimeter at the expense of fantasying about Martha.


In summary, the storyteller O’Brien gives an inferential view of the relationship between the contents of backpacks to struggles, and turmoil soldiers go through during the war. Lieutenant Cross, the main character is charged with failing his obligations of protecting his men lives due to love fantasy to Martha. Martha’s letters and photographs engage more of time of Jimmy’s time than fight. Another instance is Ted Lavender (O’Brien 494). He carries extra rounds of ammo and tranquilizers in fear of death but dies unknowingly. Instead of fighting, Ted speculates to cure himself after injury. However, some backpack contents carried are not a symbol of personality, but they represent authority and responsibilities.

Works Cited

Marlantes, Karl. What It Is Like to Go to War. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011. Internet resource. http://www.worldcat.org/title/what-it-is-like-to-go-to-war/oclc/758550384. Accessed on 21/03/2017.

O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Carried.” Gillespie, Sheena, Tony Pipolo and Terezinha Fonseca. Literature Across Cultures: Fifth Edition. New York: Pearson Education Inc (2008): 484-96.

O’Brien, Tim. If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. New York: Broadway Books, 1999. Internet resource. http://www.worldcat.org/title/if-i-die-in-a-combat-zone-box-me-up-and-ship-me-home/oclc/768486998. Accessed on 21/03/2017.

O’brien, Tim. The things they carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Internet resource. http://www.worldcat.org/title/things-they-carried-a-work-of-fiction/oclc/649958965. Accessed on 21/03/2017.

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