The things they carried by Tim Obrien

2 pages (500 words)
The short story “The Things They Carried” was published in 1990. It describes the events of Vietnam War and analyzes deep personal feelings of the main heroes, and things they were faced with during wartime. Soldiers carry different “things” with them. Under “things” Obrien means weapons and ammunition as well as terror, love, personal values and beliefs, but “almost everyone humped photographs” (p.4). This story vividly depicts inner state of the characters during wartime and their living essentials such as fear, kindness, love, and uncertainty. These things are so important for them as ammunition during wartime, because they help the main heroes to overcome depression and difficulties they face with. It is important that “a set of things” has been changed, and at the end of the story the heroes carry a completely different “things” with them.

The main character of the book is Lieutenant Jim Cross, a man who falls in love with a girl who does not return his feelings. Jim suffers greatly and can do nothing but dreaming about close relations with this girl. His negligence of duties costs life one of his soldiers, and after this terrible event, he puts an end to his false dreams, and rethink most of his values and views. It was really difficult to him to change his worldview but he was strong enough to cope with emotional burden, and re-sort his “things”. The main idea of the text is that wartime has a great impact on feelings and views of people. To some extent, this very moment caused the awakening of many characters in the story. For instance, Jim Cross sees the truth of life only when the soldier dies because of his negligence. Obrien depicts that fear applied to love leads to individual degradation. Tolerance protects that diversity and demands respect. Jim Cross is a person who fights with his own imperfection changing his personal views after Ted Lavender’s death. When fear starts to dominate, people usually act in their own interests, they degrade as the keepers of customs and morality. It remains disappointing that the social issues that are generally identified as pertaining to deal with questions of individual choice, rather than of communal responsibility.

This story portrays that for some soldiers their burden is too heavy and they cannot carry it any longer. At the beginning of the story Obrien describes things they carry: “what they carry was partly a function of rank, partly a field spatiality” (p.5). Further, for most of them it is difficult to change their attitude towards life, but the rat-trap of war has an great influence on their outlook. For instance, Jim Cross has burned all pictures of Martha and shifts his attention to duties. The other main characters, Ted Lavender, Kiowa, Lee Strunk, and Henry Dobbins, are also carry their “things” which differ because they have different life experiences and expectations. Nevertheless, war force them to carry the same psychological things as scary and hope.  They need to adapt to war, but the only way for them is to change their habits and personal values. Some of them like Ted Lavender’s conditioned to this reality using their own way, but fails. Subconscious persuasion and mind-altering drugs have no effects. This causes lack of coincidence between war and personal feelings, since many of the characters struggling to develop their emotions while everyone else struggles to suppress their feelings.

It is possible to conclude that in the story Obrien rings up questions concerning moral health of people during wartime. Throughout the story there is a definite blame unmoral behaviour of the people but it is most poignantly and symbolically demonstrated with the rejection of war.  Obrien shows that the inner state of Jim Cross has changed, and the readers cannot find “a love man” as he was at the beginning of the story. The author depicts that war is a dangerous and tremendous evil which change emotion and feeling, views and customs of soldiers. In spite of all the negative life lessons Jim Cross understands what it is to be an individual, and re-sorts his “things he carried”.  It was the only way for all soldiers to survive during war. At the end of the story “things” form a strict ethical code which functions as the characters’ sole defense against the overwhelming chaos of war. They set of things include the ideals of honor, courage and endurance in a world that is sometimes chaotic and always painful. The story teaches that a mature person acts in accordance with his own ethical code developing an approach to life that helps him get through the day.


  1. Obrien, T. “The Things They Carried” from The Things They Carried. pp.1-27. Broadway, 1998
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