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The Horrors of War: Coping In The Things They Carried

Powerful Essays
Author and Vietnam veteran Tim Obrien writes of the horrors of the Vietnam War through a collection of related short stories in his novel, The Things They Carried. It is a work of fiction mixed with bits of truth based on his experiences during the war. The novel is heralded by many as a modern classic and one of the quintessential novels to read in a lifetime. The novel has inspired two feature films, and can be found on the required reading lists of high school history classes and college literature courses across the United States. The stories are full of graphic imagery of the violence seen in war, the personal bonds created between soldiers, and perseverance. In O’Brien’s own words referring to the characters in the novel, “They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die: Grief, terror, love, longing” (O’Brien 21). A reoccurring theme throughout the novel, and in many of O’Brien’s other works, is the telling of war stories, and it is easy for the reader to interpret this novel as an assembly of war stories. Upon closer inspection, it is revealed that the true nature of this novel is not about war, but the ways in which people choose to cope with death, grief, and the loss experienced from the war. In the opening lines of the novel, O’Brien writes of the items the soldiers carried. The majority of the items were the necessities of infantry soldiers: knives, flares, fragmentation grenades, extra socks, insect repellent, guns, and ammunition. However, O’Brien also writes of the items the soldiers carried to alleviate the horrific realities of war. Everyone carried photographs of their loved ones, Rat Kiley carried M&M’s and brandy, Kiowa carried a copy of the Bible, Dave Jenson carried a lucky rabbits f... ... middle of paper ... ...wrist, and say, “Timmy, stop crying” (O’Brien 236). As an author, Tim O’Brien has the ability to keep people alive with a story. That is his way of coping with feelings of loss, anxiety, guilt, shame, and remorse—his way of coping. Works Cited Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Print. Greenberg, Jerrold S. Comprehensive Stress Management. Dubuque, IA: W.C. Brown, 1987. Print. Kemp, Janet, and Robert Bossarte. "Suicide Data Report, 2012." Department of Veterans Affairs. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction. New York: Broadway, 1998. Print. Robins, Lee N., Darlene H. Davis, and Donald W. Goodwin. "Drug Use By U.S. Army Enlisted Men In Vietnam: A Follow-Up On Their Return Home." The American Journal of Epidemiology (1974): 235-49. Print.