Reaction Paper – The Things They Carried “The Things They Carried” was a story about soldiers caught in the confusion of the Vietnam War. There are a lot of apparent themes that are dealt with when writing a story about war, especially about death. I enjoyed reading this story, however there were some things about it that I was concerned about. I would like to discuss the authors style of writing, his meaning of the title “The Things They Carried” and the way the author and his characters deal with death. This story was written with a variety of styles, and it was in a non-traditional format.
The main style seems to be a third person, limited omniscient story. However, this story also includes elements of flashback. In a traditional flashback however, the character having the flashback usually is telling the story, the flashback or past events is told only once, and then we view the character or characters revelations afterwards. This story breaks all of the rules of the traditional flashback. In the story, a comrade dies, Ted Lavender.
The event of his death is retold 4 or 5 times within the story, from all different angles. For some readers who read this for the first time, especially myself, this was very confusing. It’s almost as if the story is being told as a movie, where we are supposed to have some visual reference as to where we are in the story. Another element that was confusing is that if the reader has no knowledge of famous or foreign wars, the reader would not know that this is set in the Vietnam War. The word Vietnam is not mentioned until later on in the story.
This story could have easily been set in WWII, since this war did deal with some of the Far East countries. The story did have a ‘modern’ feel to it, so I believed that it was the Vietnam War. Finally, the author used vulgar words in the story. I believe that you take a serious risk when you write literature with swear words, because then you separate most of your audience. Either your audience is liberal and understands the use of the words, or your audience is conservative, and they are offended and don’t finish reading. However, I also believe that the words are put in not for the vulgarity, but for an authentication of what was going on in the war. They were not used in every dialogue, or every sentence, but in places where you might “normally” hear them.
All of these different elements together provided for a very dynamic story. I did pick up on the central themes in the story. One thing that was apparent was Lt. Jimmy Cross, and his use of his “girlfriend” Martha to deal with the war. Another is the death of one comrade, Ted Lavender, and how it affected the soldiers.
And then there is the title, “The Things They Carried”, in which the author takes time to emphasize throughout the story. I felt that author also tried to mislead readers by the title, because the story is really not about the ‘Things”. In the story there are large passages in which the author describes, to the pound, the weight of the physical things that each of the soldiers carried. In each passage however, there was one statement or something that didn’t fit into the physical things category. The soldiers were also sectioned off into stereotypes, which I also believe was on purpose.
For example “Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers . . . Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, . .
. Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope . . .” Ironically, the soldier who was “scared”, Ted, was the one who ended up dead in the story. Later in the story, the passage about “The Things They Carried” changes into mental things.
For example, “They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing . . .” This is the author’s way of coming out and explaining that the soldiers do have some kind of emotion, however they cant show or discuss it because of the atmosphere of the war. Some of this is understandable, however some emotions, regardless of atmosphere should be allowed to be expressed. Finally, I would like to comment on how the author and the characters deal with death.
Even though the characters were acting in a un-humanlike way, the author points out the minds behind the soldiers. Lavenders death is really a central theme in the story. So much so that the event of his death keeps getting repeated over and over again. Death is not a funny thing to me, or an emotion that should be discussed. However, the author makes it a point to tell the different positions on death.
Lavenders death only affects one person in the entire squad, the leader Jimmy. Everyone else in the platoon carried on as if nothing was wrong. In fact, some of the troops were “smoking the dead man’s dope” while waiting for the chopper to arrive to take Lavender away. At first I was appalled at this fact. If a comrade of mine died, the last thing I would do is try to find something to profit from his dead corpse. I would also be afraid for my own life because someone close to me just died. I understand that these are soldiers, and that they deal with death, and are trained to kill.
However, when someone close to you dies, that is a different situation. The author does make a point to mention, “They (the soldiers) carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die”, which indicates that the soldiers did feel some kind of emotion. However, it amazes me that these soldiers can even mask their true emotions in the face of their friend dying. After all, we are human after all. I do appreciate the fact that the author points out the true feelings of the characters, even though their actions do not represent these feelings. Again, “The Things They Carried” is a very interesting story.
It’s a very powerful story and it brings a lot of personality and emotion into view. I found out later in a short biography that the author was actually in the Vietnam War, and he returned home on an honorable discharge. Which really means that he wrote the story with a personal experience of the Vietnam War. This also makes a reader wonder what in the story was his personal experience, or what was really fiction. In any case, the story was written to be an accurate view of the story, and to provide a microscope into these soldier’s lives.