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Coping Mechanisms in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried

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During the Vietnam war, soldiers were not exposed to the traditional coping mechanisms of our American society, as illustrated in Tim Obrien's The Things They Carried. These men were forced to discover and invent new ways to deal with the pressures of war, using only their resources while in the Vietnamese jungle. It was not possible for any soldier to carry many items or burdens with them, but if something was a necessity, a way was found to carry it, and coping mechanisms were a necessity to survive the war.  

 

Anti-depressants, psychiatrists, massages...there are many different things offered in American society today to help individuals fight the stress of life. People are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for medicine and treatments that promise to give them a better life. They will spend hours of their time at a masseuse or a psychiatrist in constant search for relief from the lives they live. During the Vietnam War, however, soldiers were not exposed to any of these traditional "coping mechanisms". Instead, these men were forced to discover and invent new ways to deal with the pressures of war, using only their resources while in the Vietnamese jungle. It was not possible for any soldier to carry many items or burdens with them, but if something was a necessity, a way was found to carry it, and coping mechanisms were a necessity to survive the war. Each soldier had a personal effect, story, or process that helped him wake up each morning and go to battle once again, and it was these personal necessities that enabled men to return home after the war. Stress was caused by the war itself and the continual conditions of battle, as well as the knowledge and guilt of killing another ...


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... could not help themselves, they were not going to be helped. If struggle were encountered, men had personalized ways to reconnect with the real world, and if a tragedy were encountered which affected the entire company, they also found a combined way to cope with this pressure. The priorities of men during the war shifted greatly toward emotional connections to people and events other than the war, and it was these connections that helped them survive and return home. Coping with the stress and burden of war is not an easy task for anyone, yet in The Things they Carried, O'Brien depicts men dealing and coping as much as they can, using only their primeval resources. They learn how to cope with the barest necessities in life, and they learn how to make use of the smallest opportunities to obtain the most relief and joy from every moment in life.

 


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