One would wonder how it feels witnessing the Vietnam war firsthand in the combat. Well, Tim O’Brian takes us through a journey that portrays the emotional and physical burdens that the soldiers of war had to deal with during the Vietnam warfare in his book The things they carried. However, this is not a book about the Vietnam war but its story about the experiences of the soldiers and the emotional effect that was bestowed onto them. O’Brian skillfully employs various stylistic techniques of specific and a conscious selection of detail. The predominant theme in the book revolves around the violent nature that the soldiers acquired in their war expedition in Vietnam. Tim Obrian clearly makes us understand the effects of the war on the soldiers when he discusses about the thumb that was cut on a Vietnamese young boy. In this paper, I will give an analysis of the major issues which Tim O’brien intendeds to communicate in his book.
Unlike the majority of previous US battles, the Vietnam war had proven to be the toughest of them all. The Vietnamese soldiers were practicing a different style of combat. Their style involved ambushes and surprise attacks which had proven very hard for the US military to counter attack. For this reason, an attack was always imminent, when walking in the dense Vietnam jungle, a US soldier was always at risk of being tripped by a booby trap if not being ambushed to death. Some fellow soldiers were being found mutilated and completely disfigured from the torture they went through before meeting their deaths. By use of specificity of the observable physical details, Tim O’brien gives the indelible and horrific encounters of this mostly young soldiers.
His Jaw was in the throat, his upper lip and the teeth were gone , his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star-shaped hole, the skin on his left cheek was peeled back and a butterfly was resting on his chin, his right cheek was hairless.. his neck was open to the spinal cord and the blood there was thick and shiny and it was this wound that killed him (118)
It is through such inhuman encounters, the formerly innocent and sensitive young men were transformed into apathetic, cynical, inhumane and unfeeling individuals who would torture fellow human beings to death, cut fingers and tongues as lucky charms. For instance, Mitchell Sanders cuts off the thumb of Viet Cong (VC) corpse, a fifteen or sixteen year old Vietnamese young boy. He gives it to Norman Bowler to carry. This issue regarding the VC thumb shows the drastic change in the personalities as a result of the effects of war. Norman Bowler who is otherwise a very gentle person, carried the finger of the dead boy “the thumb was dark brown, rubbery to touch it had been cut from a VC corpse, a boy of fifteen (13)” Mitchell Sanders claimed that there is a moral to this thumb. Henry Dobbins asks what the moral is but he given an ambiguous answer. Cutting VC thumb may be symbolizing that the Vietnamese should not mess with the US army. This action was largely immoral since they carried much hatred towards an innocent boy who was most probably equally afraid of the fighting so as the American Soldiers. War had transformed Norman Bowler from the gentleman described by O’Brian into an emotionally devoid fighter who is carrying a thumb of a young boy as a trophy for his kill. This transformation, which happened in Bowlers life in connection to handling the dead finger is a great indicator of the immense emotional and psychological changes that soldiers normally undergo.
Through the details that Tim O’Brian gives, we are thereby driven to empathize with the men and women in our defense force. They carried a lot of emotional baggage of their fellow men who died in war, terror, love. Among the things they also carried were the dishonorable memories of cowardice since they had carried the soldiers' fears (p21). Another key figure in this war expedition is Jimmy cross, the platoon leader whose guilt feelings is palpable every time a man in his team dies. The most severe being in regard to Ted lavender’s death. Shortly before Ted was killed, Cross had allowed himself to get distracted by a former classmate, Martha , Whom he had fallen deeply in love with but unfortunately she was not loving him back. He symbolizes the effects of giving responsibilities to those who are too immature to handle it. He was not interested at all in the war nor in becoming the team leader.
Tim O’Brian attributes the soldiers regular and tedious marching to the lack of morality. He says that those rigorous marching lead to dullness in the conscience and to an individual sensibility. This is why they usually arrive at villages and start to frisk little children and old men without using any proper strategy. However the world should focus on enjoying life to its fullest since war has no morals and it works for destruction and death. This is a culmination of the desire for peace and the symbolism of the thumb that was cut fro the young Vietnamese boy”there is no moral to war”
Top of Form
Roberts, Edgar V, and Robert Zweig. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing.
Boston: Longman, 2012. Print. Bottom of Form
Top of Form
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
Bottom of Form