In “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien shares his insight and experience of the battlefield through the unknown narrator. O’Brien employs a variety of tactics to express his feelings about war, and the writer reveals to the reader what the troops are bringing. The vocabulary used in the descriptions of the numerous battle scenes helps to reveal O’Brien’s attitude toward the ongoing conflict. He employs a variety of narrative methods to keep the reader interested and watching the events as they unfold. It can be stated that the attitude of O’Brien towards war keeps on changing as the troops encounter different challenges as they walk in the battlegrounds.
One of the profound attitudes embraced by O’Brien is that he does not like being in war. According to the narration, each of the soldiers is wearing heavy gears and carry with them heavy ammunition such as the machine guns. Besides the soldiers have to equip themselves with the right tools to fight back in case an enemy strikes. They have to remain prepared since they do not know at what time the enemy might strike. Further, the soldiers have to keep moving through the rough terrain and swampy areas, moving through trenches and thick vegetation for purposes of disguise and also to avoid detection by the enemy. The soldiers trek long distances till they are tired to move. Due to fatigue of covering long distances carrying heavy fighting tools, it reaches a point where the soldiers just move without total consciousness of their surroundings (Gratch). According to O’Brien, soldiers in such an exhausted states can easily be attacked through an ambush by the soldiers. The description provided by O’Brien shows he does not like the circumstances under which soldier work during a war. The conditions are pathetic and the circumstances humiliating such that the soldiers lose hope at some point in their seemingly long journey (Gratch). O’Brien gives the description of the conditions on the battlefield such that the readers can comprehend and sympathize with him about the dire situation. The attitude of O’Brien is pessimistic since he shows the conditions at war can never be better at any given time. Tim O’Brien seems to dislike war and the conditions to which the soldiers are subjected. His sentiments are echoed by Wilfred Owen in his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” which has a title that means it is a captivating experience to die for one’s own country (Ağır). Owen does not literary mean that it is the best thing to dying for a country but it is an indication of the pressing conditions at the battlefield that pushes soldiers to resolve to die for their country. It is not like the soldiers have a choice but the situation in the battle is pretty serious that it brings hopelessness amongst the troop members (Wright). O’Brien does not like the way in which war exposes soldiers to all sorts of danger and rough conditions.
O’Brien dislikes war since it exposes young men who could have taken another path of life. War seems to kill dreams of young people and cause an end to their life. According to the description provided by the narrator, the young soldiers have dreams of having families after the war is over. Some of them are holding pictures of the girlfriends they had before they joined the army. Each of the young soldiers is hopeful that they will emerge victorious in the war and return home to start families. O’Brien presents an army of young men who inexperienced and seem to have memories of their girlfriends (Gratch). Most soldiers do not seem to be married since the description provided by the narrator does not indicate soldiers who have left families behind. Even the games and pranks they play with one another reveal that the soldiers are very young. Due to lack of experience, the soldiers run into booby traps set by their enemies. Those who fall, victims, of the traps in the battlefield, die as their colleagues helplessly watch them. The harsh terrain and limited intelligence on the terrain expose them to grave dangers of meeting their death. The soldiers do not seem to have a clue of where their enemies are located and how they operate. The inexperienced soldiers risk falling into an ambush by the enemy since there is no evidence they are getting updated intelligence as they advance in the battlefield. O’Brien negative attitude towards war develops since young people lose their lives and their dreams are cut short at the battlefield. Young and inexperienced soldiers have high chances of meeting death in the battle besides being fed with limited intelligence on the operations of the enemy (Wright). What O’Brien means is that War destroys dreams of young population and terminates the life of those who would otherwise by important people in the future.
The attitude of O’Brien changes after one colleague, Lavender, dies as they powerlessly watch. He realizes that he could be next after their colleague is killed by an enemy trap (Gratch). The conditions in the battlefield are horrific and terrifying such that the soldiers dread with fear. O’Brien does not like war since it instils fear amongst the fighting soldiers and makes the vulnerable to defeat. The description provided by the narrator shows each of the soldiers having some past memories of someone they love or having an image or picture of their loved ones. When the going gets tough in the battlefield, soldiers start remembering their loved ones back at home. In the first stanza of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”, Owen gives an image of how soldiers suffered in the battlefield. Some soldiers march while they were asleep while others walked on bare legs since they lost their boots in the battle (Ağır). Owen shows that the battlefield is not a pleasant place and soldiers suffer lots of afflictions including moving on while injured. O’Brien has a negative perspective towards War since it places soldiers under compromising conditions and many of lives are lost. Besides, War makes the soldiers dread with fear and exposes them to all sorts of attacks. Many lives are lost during war and soldiers sustain all sorts of injuries. Some of the soldiers remain amputated while others become disabled for the rest of their lives. It is for these reasons that O’Brien’s perspective towards war.
There are various techniques that O’Brien use in this work of “The Things they Carried”. He uses the technique of self-conflict or internal conflict. This type of conflict reveals the struggle that exists between a person and their internal being. The importance of this technique used by O’Brien is that the reader is introduced to the inner thoughts of the participants. The reader benefits by getting the warning that they should be careful when deciding which thought is true and one which is fantasy. Also, O’Brien uses symbolism for various items to give a hint to the reader. For instance, Ted Lavender carried with him a poncho and it turns out that the same bag is used for ferrying his body when he was killed on the battlefield (Gratch). Besides, O’Brien uses foreshadowing to reveal what is expected ahead of time. The soldiers are carrying a lot of ammunition and signifying that they were expecting heavy fighting with their enemies. The poem written by Owen depicted the technique of foreshadowing. Owen writes the poem while undergoing treatment after being seriously injured in the battlefield. He wrote the poem with a lot of zeal and sent it to his mother as a way of communicating with her. However, after recovering Owen decides to go back to the battlefield to assist his colleagues but did not make it, he died in the line of duty (Ağır). The poem acted as an indicator of the death of the poet that awaited him after the first injury he sustained. In addition, O’Brien uses the technique of cataloguing where he listed the items carried by each of the soldiers. The importance of the technique is that it helps the reader build a complete composition of the mentioned character. It helps readers visualize how the character could have looked in reality. Besides, the listing of the ammunition carried by the soldiers helped the writer visualize the soldier’s preparedness.
Ağır, A. Barış. “The Death of Patriotism: Wilfre Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est as an Anti-War Manifesto.” Journal of History Culture and Art Research 2.2 (2013): 212-220.
Gratch, Ariel. “Teaching Identity Performance through Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” Communication Teacher 29.2 (2015): 71-75.
Wright, Jordan. “There’s a Moral Here: Emerging Ethics in The Things They Carried.” (2015).