Essay on Necessity in The Things They Carried

Essay on Necessity in The Things They Carried

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Necessity in The Things They Carried


Necessity is a rather slippery concept in terms of definition. The notion of what an individual requires for his or her survival varies with the particular situation at any given time. These needs may intensify or become distorted as one finds himself in an increasingly dangerous situation, particularly a life-and-death one such as war. Such dire circumstances may provoke in an average person feelings of extreme vulnerability, and the desire to hold on to all that he can, not unlike a child's instinct to grasp the nearest object in his search for comfort while in the throes of anxiety. Despite the fact that these "necessary" items or ideas that he clings to may impair or even threaten to destroy the person, abandoning them may seem impossible.

"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien displays necessity in its destructive aspects as well as its sustaining ones. It thoroughly examines the burdens of the soldiers and the effects these burdens have on a man in a life-threatening situation. But in his examination of these things that the men carry, O'Brien poses a puzzling question: do these "necessities" that the men carry on their backs and in their minds keep them alive, or lead to their own demise? In "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien examines the numerous facets of the concept of necessity and questions how truly necessary certain things really are.

The most obvious need of the men in the story is the supplies that they carry that will keep them physically alive. O'Brien makes this clear by listing every detail and accounting for every ounce of food, clothing and weaponry. He also establishes the importance by listing those items first in the story. "The things they carried ...


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... must bear. Perhaps when one feels the most needy is the time when he must free himself from those excesses that weigh him down and become like the soldiers in their dreams; "they gave themselves over to lightness, they were carried, they were purely borne" (22).

Sources Cited and Consulted

Calloway, Catherine. "'How to Tell a True War Story': Metafiction in The Things They Carried." Studies in Contemporary Fiction 36.4 (1995): 249. Expanded Academic ASAP.

Jarraway, David R. "'Excremental Assault'" in Tim O'Brien: Trauma and Recovery in Vietnam War Literature.": Modern Fiction Studies 44.3 (1998): p.695-711.

Kaplan, Steven. "The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried." Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 35.1 (1993): 43. Expanded Academic ASAP.

O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway Books, 1990.

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