The Things They Carried is a thoroughly gripping book with a raw honesty that is absolutely haunting. Aside from the Bible, no book has affected me so deeply. I was not there in the jungles of Vietnam. I was not even alive when the fighting occurred. There are only a few people I know who fought in those far away jungles and rarely do they speak of it. Then I met Tim OBrien. I met him walking through the jungle, pondering Canada, visiting his boyhood home, and remembering his dreams. He told me the truth about Vietnam.
He told me the truth but he took twists and turns in his story. He leapt backward and seemed to be going nowhere, but that is just when he would hit me hard and fast with his point. I wondered why he was telling me like this, and then I realized that is was the only way for me to understand. Mere words could take me to the jungle, but it was the dizzying truth that would make me feel the heat and confusion.He made sure I knew, that in war, There is no clarity. Every thing swirls. (88). It was the nature of his memory.
I learned about the tangible things that the men carried into and through the jungle. They carried pictures, love letters, steel helmets, and M-16s. There were other things though, things they didnt always pull out and show the other guys. Fear was tucked away somewhere behind their eyes and innocence was carried in but quickly stolen away. The war robbed them of their peaceful sleep and guiltlessness and gave vivid memory in their place. Theyll never forget the surreal images that make up their memories of Vietnam.
That is what Tim OBrien and the men of his company carried out of Vietnam. They carried things heavier and more profound than what they came in with. Things like haunting memories and guilt, the look on a friends face just before he was blown to pieces when he stepped on a land mine and shaking dead mens hands. In the blurred morality that enveloped Vietnam, these men were forced to kill without hate, without even thinking about killing (148). That is what the war gave these men to carry out and take home; images of death burned in their memory. OBrien told me that, Even now I havent finished sorting it out. Sometimes I forgive myself, other times I dont. (149).
He didnt ask me to understand the war because it cannot be understood. Instead he asked me to understand the men. I knew that was impossible; I hadnt seen it, done it, tasted ityou had to be there. I could sense that he did not want me to say that I understood; he knew I didnt. Not fully, the way he did. He just wanted me to listen and hear him remember the truth. He told me the stories over and over again to make sure I got it. The truth, the nature of his memory will now be one of the things that I carry.