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Setting Of 'The Things They Carried'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1483 words Published: 12th May 2017

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The things they carried is a short story written by Tim O’Brien. Basically, the author based the events that take place in the book with Vietnam War. Fictional as it might appear, it is deduced that the ordeals that are addressed in the story are the author’s. This article will analyze the setting of the above short narrative alongside the main character Jimmy Cross. The idea behind is to show the reader how Jimmy Cross matures from a naïve and inexperienced victim of a love affair, to a grown man who can reason beyond his nose that, he cannot continue living in a world of dreams which will never come to pass. In a different perspective however, the article will also focus on how Jimmy Cross the soldier experiences transition from a lieutenant with no vision and skills of leadership, to a strong leader who can make informed decisions and a mentor to the other soldiers. In addition to that, the article will also analyze the setting of the story in terms of place and time from the time the story begins up to the end.

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When the story begins, the main character Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is portrayed by the author as very inexperienced and immature in love affairs. This sense of immaturity is characterized by the fact that he keeps on thinking about Martha. Her efforts of keeping in touch with Cross do not seem to have any impact as he keeps wondering whether she really loved him. As if that is not enough, he is caught in several incidences portraying his immaturity when he is encompassed with thoughts of whether indeed Martha is a virgin (O’ Brien, 4). As the main character, Cross is seen to have senses of insecurity in their relationship with Martha. This keeps on changing as the story progresses.

The idea of the author to give the main character in the story many responsibilities is to show the reader just how strong he is. Although some weaknesses emanating from negligence are shown, these are brought deliberately by the writer to show the reader that indeed the character is under going transition as the story progresses. The major character is the point of reference representing the soldiers in their world of dream and reality that faces him. Going by the title of the story ‘The Things they carried’ it can easily be seen in Cross (O’ Brien, 6). He carries the pictures of his sweet heart to the battle field. This portrays the idea of emotional suffering that encompasses these soldiers in their mind and heart. Although Cross loved Martha so much, there was no guarantee that this love will ever be reciprocated. This is a classic case of somebody who is desperate for love (O’ Brien, 7). As the story progresses, this is feeling of obsession changes in to something else.

From the naive soldier who is obsessed with Martha, to somebody who can be trusted with the lives of other soldiers is evident of how the lieutenant has become of birth. This is an intended move by the author to further develop the main character. The few things that are carried by Cross are shown by the author to show the task ahead of leading other soldiers. We can also say that besides these things, is a strong feeling of Martha the woman he loves most. She is the only one who exists in his mind and heart and this leads to his frequent hallucinations (O’ Brien, 9). Tim O’ Brien trusts him with the responsibility of a leader because he is a strong character. Going by the things he is carrying it is symbolic of somebody who is expected to provide direction anytime things go wrong. In this case not in literal terms but in all aspects of him being a leader. He should be a strong soldier if his men are to survive in Vietnam (O’ Brien, 13).

As a high ranking soldier, it is expected that Cross is experienced and not like the naive young soldiers. Although he has experience in war, he is presented as a character that has no idea what it means to be a leader (O’ Brien, 17). I hold the view that this comes early in the story to give the author a room to develop Cross. This is evident because as the story progresses, he slowly by slowly shifts his focus from Martha to the war. The leadership role systematically sets in.

The character of Cross is further developed as well as the setting of the story when they go to Than Khe on a mission to destroy their basements. Cross is still encompassed with the fantasies of him being with Martha in the basement. This is hallucination or what can be termed as day dreaming in the literal perspective (O’ Brien, 24). His weakness as a leader is clearly seen when Lavender is shot from a cliff. His mind is not anywhere there as he is only thinking of Martha. His behavior upon the death of Lavender shows the reader how war has made him cruel, extremely insensitive and inhuman. He is filled with irrelevant matters as whether Martha is a virgin (O’ Brien, 29). His rather strange character is developed when on realizing that, by thinking of Martha is what makes his fellow soldier suffer he directs his anger towards her. His love for her is changed into contempt. He would later burn her pictures to keep away from thinking about her every now and then. This portrays him as a rather sentimental character. He is so much moved by the death of his friend that he admits, he would forego his leadership role for love (O’ Brien, 33). This shows how regrettable he has become with time due to his negligence. As a good leader he would have stayed focused on the title field but he relaxes and allows the love that never was to occupy his small head (O’ Brien, 38).

In the same setting, the character of Cross is further developed by the other who shows him as a vengeful character. Upon the death of Lavender, Cross goes with all his soldiers to Than Khe and they set fire on everything shooting any moving object on the ground. While resting in the evening, Cross starts sobbing uncontrollably (O’ Brien, 42). This shows how concerned he has become in regard to the death of his friend. He is shown as a character that is different from the rest, who are only discussing the death of their colleague in a more humorous way (O’ Brien, 44). With this in mind, we can say that O’Brien shows how immaturity and incompetency is a great disadvantage to these soldiers. Among many things they are carrying, as the title goes, is fear and feelings of guilt that they cannot admit or even face head on. Although Cross and his friends are lamenting for the death of their friend, they feel rather relived owing to the fact that they are still alive (O’ Brien, 49).

As the book proceeds, the author develops the main character and the setting further. Cross seems to be coming back to his senses. This is in a rather strange way as he is no longer himself again (O’ Brien, 52). He is shown as somebody who has been living in the world of fantasy but has resumed in the actual world. He woke up the following morning after the death of his colleague and organized the soldiers for a marching session. He surprises everybody when he swears never to fantasize again. This can be said as having come too late as the death of his colleague cannot be reversed (O’ Brien, 54). We can say that the death of one of the soldiers reveals so many things in the story. The true picture of a leader who had gone astray is brought out by O’Brien through the unfortunate death of one of them (O’ Brien, 59). Besides, the character of the main character being developed, other soldiers are not left behind also. Upon the death of their colleagues they decide to smoke his marijuana making jokes out of the death of their colleague. They even say that he could not have felt any pain as he had taken too much marijuana. They are equally amazed, just like Cross, that one can be smoking marijuana in a given second and meet his death in the next second. The death of their colleague has brought sanity back (O’ Brien, 60).

In conclusion, the author manages to keep the reader focused on how Cross undergoes transition from a very naïve and inexperienced soldier, to a mature and considerate person on learning his lesson the hard way. The death of Lavender serves as an eye opener not only to him but also to the other soldiers.

Work cited:

T. O’Brien. The Things They Carried. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2009 1-76

T. O’Brien. The Things They Carried: Response Journal.

Clayton: Prestwick House, Incorporated: 2004

T. O’Brien. The Things They Carried. London: Chelsea House Pub: 2010 1-84

H. Bloom. Tim O’Brien’s The things they carried. New York: InfoBase Publishing: 2005


B. Collins. The Things They Carried. Ocean City: Teachers Pet Pubs Inc, 2007


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