The Things They Carried By Tim O ' Brien Essay

The Things They Carried By Tim O ' Brien Essay

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The physical items a soldier carries into war may not seem important at first, but they are crucial to the short story “The Things they carried” written by Tim O’Brien. On the surface, the various items are carried along for numerous reasons. Initially, they are largely determined by necessity. After that, they serve partly as a function of rank and field specialty. An item may also present itself as a means of killing or staying alive. Others were determined, to some extent, by superstition. The items also varied according to the mission. However, the soldiers also carried the mental and emotional baggage of men who might die. Similar to the Greek God Atlas, “they carried the sky” (O’Brien 343). Atlas carried the entire weight of the sky on his shoulders. Incidentally, Atlas was also a soldier of war. The mental, emotional and psychological burdens were much heavier than any piece of physical equipment these men carried, much like carrying the weight of the world. That being said, the function of the items that the soldiers carry is to establish power in an unstable environment, but, instead, they reflect the soldiers powerlessness in war fueled by a panoptic society.
Panopticism is powerful in many ways. One of these ways is how its power lies in its ability to frighten and in the knowledge of what it could potentially do. The soldiers of “The Things They Carried” are too frightened to even be cowardly. More specifically, they are afraid of what society will think of them if they do not assume their masculine role and fight for their country. This notion is “what brought them to war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor” (O’Brien 348). The blush is representative...


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...rdens, however, are intangible and cannot be helped. So often the men wished to be released from their burdens. They dreamed of a “flight, a kind of fleeing, a kind of falling, falling higher and higher, spinning off the edge of the earth and beyond the sun through the vast, silent vacuum where there were no burdens and where everything weighed exactly nothing” (O’Brien 349). These burdens are almost unbearable, and yet, they appear to have required the perfect balance and posture. That is, essentially, the goal of the panopticon. The power of observation, placed on them by the social structure of society, is so immense that the soldiers are forced to respond by monitoring themselves. For fear of being ashamed or embarrassed, the soldiers over-monitor to the extent that they have given up complete control. The power of their actions at war no longer belongs to them.

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