While he pretended, she was "elusive on the matter of love" (1). While she might have signed her letters with love, Jimmy "knew better" (2) but the idea made him feel better so he allowed himself the luxury of living in the fantasy. Jimmy's guilt for Ted's death was "like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war" (16). Jimmy must work through this emotion, which is like "both love and hate" (17) and something he cannot escape. The "heavy-duty hurt" (17) he felt helped the others see how he cared for them.
Viet Nam is one of the worst nightmares in American history. Never has the country been so divided over issues no one clearly understood. Without a clear enough reason for war, the government had to deal with growing concerns of faulty leadership. The war was long and painful with answers no arriving soon enough. Soldiers were simply emotionally drained. Meanwhile, American citizens were weary of losing sons and daughters to a seemingly worthless war. With no end in sight and negotiations leading nowhere fast, the country found itself fighting two battles. The most significant of these was what took place in the mind of the soldiers. The Things They Carried reinforces a painful mindset, asking us to consider our viewpoints about war, especially when it comes to the glory of war. O'Brien states that this war had "no sense of strategy or mission," which negates anything glorious or brave. Horror and fear seem to be words more compatible with the Viet Nam war more than anything else. O'Brien says, "I was drafted to fight a war I hated . . . The American war seemed to me wrong" and "I was a liberal, for Christ's sake: if they needed fresh bodies, why not draft some back-to-the-stone-age-hawk?" (44). He admits embarrassment is associated with why he went to Vietnam and he confesses his unstoppable sense of fear kept him from crossing the border. He writes, "I couldn't risk the embarrassment . . . I couldn't endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule . . . I was a coward. I went to the war" (58). O'Brien sprinkles such truths throughout the novel and asks us to reconsider our beliefs about war and fighting with tales of real men in real situations. When we read about Norman Bowker, who blames himself Kiowa's death, O'Brien is quick to states that Bowker had "been braver than he ever thought possible, but . . . he had not been so brave as he wanted to be" (142). This idea captures the constant struggle of soldiers fighting in any war. The need to be brave is overshadowed by the reality of never seeming to be brave enough.
The Things They Carried reinforces a painful mindset, asking us to consider our viewpoints about war with a clear perspective. O'Brien takes very personal and real experiences and turns them into carefully crafted stories that tell us so much more than a war story. O'Brien uses fiction to cope with his experiences in Viet Name but the stories also give us a chance to connect with him and other soldiers. War is not beautiful; it is not glorious and it does not create brave warriors. War can crush a man's spirit when there is no escape or release. And while we may have a plethora of war stories in libraries, we rarely find stories with such a straightforward perspective. O'Brien helps us understand certain aspects of war that are not obvious. The physical war is nothing compared to the mental war that is going on with these men. These stories are meant to serve as fiction but they also tell the story of man and the challenges that face all of us as we venture out into a world that cares very little about us. War is a killing machine that lives under the guise of freedom. It is not always nice or fair and it is rarely noble without sacrifice. O'Brien understands that some sacrifices stay locked in the recesses of the mind, only to emerge through stretches of fiction and flashes of memory.
Martin Naparsteck. An Interview with Tim O'Brien Contemporary Literature. JSTOR Resource
Database. Web. Site Accessed Dec 19, 2010.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway Books. 1990. Print.