What did they carry? Was it just their standard issued gear? Was it relics from”the world”? Or was it something more sinister? Tim OBrien explores these ideas and many more in his heart stopping, breath taking, uniquely sad but true book, The Things They Carried. OBrien, a victim of the Vietnam War himself, shares with us stories that he endured while in the Nam. Moreover, I believe that this book of his was much more than a collection of stories. I believe this book was not meant to entertain our imagination nor was it written to indulge our fears. Rather, I believe it was a plea to God himself; an apology to the Almighty for the horrors and atrocities committed unto his children through the horror and brutalities of a relentless, and ever bloody war. OBrien immediately feeds us insight into the belongings of a grunt.
Everything from P-38s to stolen soap, to the exact weights of each item. He also forges ahead with the memories of his comrades, or the lack thereof. He lures us into a realm that equates to summer camp where the new children are tormented with the loss of their family, and can only dream about being reunited with them. This world abruptly changes into a living, breathing, outlandish hell. At the peak of the many climaxes intwined in the many different stories, I felt anxious, but often times, I felt uncomfortable.
Something didnt seem right. Something didnt add up. I think that the one thing that each character carried, although it was never formerly introduced, was that sad over-powering emotion known as guilt. Mark Fossie felt the bitter end of guilt. Even Rat Kiley felt a guilt that very few can experience. I shoulder the hunch that Mark Fossies guilt lies in bringing an innocent girl into a hell that took her and fabricating her into a monster.
How content she must have been back in the real world before going to Vietnam. But Nam changed the sweet, once innocent beauty into something that cannot be altered back-a savage. The Nam brought our her instinct, if you will, of survival and savageness. According to the “Greenies”, they would often find her daring the impossible, the unimaginable. She proved to those men that sex didnt matter, and beastly measures could be taken by anyone. How does Rat Kileys guilt fit in to this equation? Kiley had to set back and watch the distasteful transfiguration of the beautiful Mary Anne into a inconceivable brute.
OBrien also carried guilt. OBrien acquired his guilt near the village of My Khe. As he states, he didnt kill the young lad that was pressured into the struggle for independence. However, since OBrien was present when the lad was killed, he claims responsibility. Because he feels responsible, he also feels very guilty. Its this guilt of responsibility that seems to have a grasp on OBrien, and will not leave him at ease with himself. More importantly, this book has affected me in a big way.
It has altered my perception of the war in Vietnam for I will never view Vietnam in the same light. All the war footage cannot compare to what this book has done for me. This book has made the Vietnam War very real and very alive to me. It has also enlightened my comprehension of how Vets of the war try to come to grips with the sad realities of everyday flashbacks. This book appears to me as one giant thought.
OBrien has compiled stories that lack the common art of segmenting one idea to another as found in most popular books. Its this style of writing that, to me, justifies that it is a big thought or flashback. OBrien continually says that some of the stories are real, some are not. Some might have added embellishments, some might have missing facts. I think OBrien is sincere in his writing, and is therefore excused from any blame if some truth has been distorted. The place that he described seems like it was in a parallel universe.
How could many of these incidents happen as sporadic as they did? I firmly believe that the reason this book has caught my attention and has left me changed is because of its always changing ideas through the stories always changing yet always connecting. I hear of the GIs having flashbacks, seeing events of days now passed manifesting themselves in the present just as they happened when they previously did happen. It is this idea that concludes me to believe that this book was just one of the many flashbacks OBrien has probably experienced. As I stated before, I think this is his plea to God for forgiveness for the horrors he seen, and for the abominations he took part in. OBrien has mentioned in many different stories the “man he killed”.
He physically didnt kill the poor, timid child. He just took part in his death by being there in his country, on his land. OBriens guilt will not let him forgive himself until he can be forgave. He holds guilt for not being able to help Kiowa in the *censored* fields (if I understood him right, he was the one who tried to pull him out of submersion during the mortar attack) and feels that maybe the reason why Kiowa died was because OBrien didnt save him. He even leaves a sense of guilt about his first love, Linda.
Linda and Tims romantic tragedy has no real connection to Vietnam except Linda was another person that had contact with Tim and left him prematurely through death. The Things They Carried makes OBrien out to seem as if he is sorry for everything-the very existence of the Vietnam War, and the casualties on both sides of the warfront. The things they carried was much, much more than M-16s and C-rations. It is something that will following them wherever they go, day or night, in this physical world, or in the much pondered, spiritual world.