One of the most overlooked aspects in the life of a soldier is the weight of the things they carry. In Tim O'Brien's story, "The Things They Carried," O'Brien details the plight of Vietnam soldiers along with how they shoulder the numerous burdens placed upon them. Literally, the heavy supplies weigh down each soldier -- but the physical load imposed on each soldier symbolizes the psychological baggage a soldier carries during war. Though O'Brien lists the things each soldier carries, the focal point centers around the leader, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, and his roles in the war. Lt. Cross has multiple burdens, but his emotional baggage is the most pressing. Of all the weights burdened upon Lt. Cross, the heaviest baggage is located in his own mind. Specifically, the heaviest things Lt. Cross carries are an emotional obsession over Martha's love, the physical consequences caused by his daydreaming of Martha, and an unrelenting guilt about Ted Lavender's death.
In the first paragraph of the story, Jimmy Cross' rank is noted (First Lieutenant) along with the fact that he "carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey" (434). From the outset, the reader sees that Martha plays a pivotal role in his thoughts and actions. The fact that Jimmy Cross "would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire" after he marched the entire day and dug a foxhole indicates that he thinks often of Martha (434). While these thoughts of a lover back home provide some form of escape for Lt. Cross, they also burden him with the obsessive feelings of unrequited love. ...
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...nal lives, but O'Brien's choice to focus one soldier, Lt. Cross, lets the reader scope the depths of the human mind during an extremely stressful situation. As a young lieutenant, this man shoulders his own longing for love, the death of a fellow soldier, the guilt he places on himself, as well as the added duties of responsibilities for a platoon of men. The narrator provides one specific quote, which perfectly summarizes the mental aspects of war: "They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing -- these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight" (443). Indeed, the intangibles in this story do have tangible weight -- weight that Lt. Cross must carry for the rest of his life.
O?Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. NY: Broadway Books, 1998.
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