The Importance of Friendship in The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

The Importance of Friendship in The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

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The Importance of Friendship in The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried is a collection of stories about the Vietnam War that the author, Tim O'Brien, uses to convey his experiences and feelings about the war. The book is filled with stories about the men of Alpha Company and their lives in Vietnam and afterwards back in the United States. O'Brien captures the reader with graphic descriptions of the war that make one feel as if they were in Vietnam. The characters are unique and the reader feels sadness and compassion for them by the end of the novel. To O'Brien the novel is not only a compilation of stories, but also a release of the fears, sadness, and anger that he has felt because of the Vietnam War.
One of the significannot
concepts in The Things They Carried is that of the importance of certain objects or feelings used by the soldiers of Alpha Company to survive the war. Some examples of these items are the picture of the girl carried by Jimmy Cross, the Bible carried by Kiowa, and the stockings carried by Henry Dobbins. All the items helped the respective soldier to survive from day to day and to continue fighting the war. One of the most important things that helped the soldiers is their friendship with each other. This bond that the soldiers form helped them to survive, excluded someone who was outside their group, and helped the men of Alpha Company to cope with the war after they returned to the United States.

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The bond that men form with each other in the heat of battle is incomprehensible to those who have not experienced warfare for themselves.
It's a hard thing to explain to somebody who hasn't felt it, but the resence of death and danger has a way of bringing you fully awake. It makes things vivid. When you're afraid, really afraid, you see things you never saw before, you pay attention to the world. You make close friends. You become part of a tribe and you share the same blood – you give it together, you take it together. (O'Brien, 220)

This bond of friendship helps the men of Alpha Company survive on a day to day basis. They rely on each other for entertainment to drone out the monotony of the days. With hours and hours of marching and no action the men need a release or the boredom would drive them crazy. An example of this is "Kiowa teaching a rain dance to Rat Kiley and Dave Jensen, the three of them leaping around barefoot while a bunch of villagers looked on with a mixture of fascination and giggly horror" (O'Brien, 39). These men looked to each other for emotional support and reassurance since none was coming from the homefront. The men of Alpha Company trusted each other with their lives. Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk are a good example of this trust, "In late August they made a pact that if one of them should ever get totally fucked up – a wheelchair wound – the other guy would automatically find a way to end it" (O'Brien, 71). This pact helps these two in that they know that if it came down to living their entire life in a wheel chair that the other would end it there in Vietnam. The men trusted each other to make no mistakes because one mistake could cause someone to lose their life.
He pictured Kiowa's face. They'd been close buddies, the tightest, and he remembered how last night they had huddled together under their ponchos, the rain cold and steady, the water rising to their knees, but how Kiowa had just laughed it off and said they should concentrate on better things. And so for a long while they'd talked about their families and hometowns. At one point, the boy remembered, he'd been showing Kiowa a picture of his girlfriend. He remembered switching on his flashlight. A stupid thing to do, but he did it anyway, and he remembered Kiowa leaning in for a look at the picture – "Hey, she's cute," he'd said – and then the field exploded all around them.

Like murder, the boy thought. The flashlight made it happen. Dumb and dangerous. And as a result his friend Kiowa was dead. (O'Brien, 192)

This trust of the soldiers in each other with their lives created the friendship and bond that helped them survive each day in Vietnam.
This friendship and bond that the soldiers form in combat is also seen when the Narrator is wounded and leaves Alpha Company and runs into them at Base Camp. The Narrator feels like he is not part of the group anymore. "In a way, I envied him – all of them. Their deep bush tans, the sores and blisters, the stories, the in-it-togetherness. I felt close to them, yes, but I also felt a new sense of separation" (O'Brien, 221). The men of Alpha Company still recognized the Narrator as a friend, but since he was not out in the "bush" risking his neck everyday, the friendship was different.
They were still my buddies, at least on one level, but once you leave the boonies, the whole comrade business gets turned around. You become a civilian. That's how I felt – like a civilian – and it made me sad. These guys had been my brothers. We'd loved one another. (O'Brien, 221)

The Narrator not only feels like he is not part of this special bond of soldiers in the field, but finds out that he is replaced by another.
Sanders shrugged. "People change. Situations change. I hate to say this, man, but your out of touch. Jorgenson – he's with us now."
"And I'm not?"
Sanders looked at me for a moment.
"No," he said. "I guess your not."
I felt something shift inside of me. It was anger, partly, but it was also a sense of pure and total loss: I didn't fit anymore. They were soldiers, I wasn't. (O'Brien, 225)

From this point in the novel the Narrator finishes his tour feeling he does not belong after losing this bond with his comrades. If this happened while he was in the battlefield, the Narrator might not have survived the war.
The bond formed between the men of Alpha Company also helps them to survive when they come back to the United States. When the soldiers returned from the war they find a country that does not want to talk about the war and is even trying to forget it happened. Norman Bowker turns to the Narrator to help him express his feelings.
What you should do, Tim, is write a story about a guy who feels like he got zapped over in that shithole. This guy wants to talk about it but can't. I'd write it myself except I can't ever find any words, if you know what I mean, and I can't figure out exactly what to say. (O'Brien, 179)

The soldiers feel that the only people they can talk to about the war are their "brothers", the other men who experienced the Vietnam War. The friendship and kinship that grew in the jungles of Vietnam survived and lived on here in the United States. By talking to each other, the soldiers help to sort out the incidents that happened in the War and to put these incidents behind them. "The thing to do, we decided, was to forget the coffee and switch to gin, which improved the mood, and not much later we were laughing at some of the craziness that used to go on" (O'Brien, 29).
The friendships and bonds that formed in the jungles of Vietnam between the members of Alpha Company help them to survive on a day to day basis. Not only while they were "in country", but in dealing with their lives back in the United States. Without the bonds of friendship none of them men of Alpha Company would have survived mentally or physically the strains and trauma of the Vietnam War.
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