In the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, the author discusses the stories of soldiers who participated in the Vietnam War and experienced a great amount of trauma and guilt brought by their experiences. Tim O’Brien uses imagery to help the reader put themselves in the perspectives of the soldiers through demonstrating how the deaths of so many people have a huge impact on those affected and make the men start to lose their sense of humanity.
In the chapter Spin, Tim looks back on the various encounters that he experienced during the war. O’Brien uses this chapter to communicate what appears to be a never ending series of traumatic events and the emotional toll that these have on the soldiers. This shows when he says “the bad stuff never stops, it lives in its own dimension replaying itself over and over” (32). In this moment, the story puts into perspective the emotional consequences of being involved in the war. The memories of the war cannot stop “replaying” for O’Brien, as he feels trapped in a loop, forcing him to constantly think about death and loss he has experienced. This makes it nearly impossible for him to gain a peace of mind that is untouched by the trauma of war. By describing how the bad aspects of war “live” in their own “dimension,” O’Brien is personifying the soldiers’ memories and giving them a life of their own in order to show how powerful they really are. Their existence in another dimension expresses the idea that they are out of the control of the soldiers, so they cannot be done away with or forgotten, they overpower the minds of the soldiers and overwhelm them with negativity as they replay in their minds over and over. O’Brien also mentions his fears brought by the war and explains the pain that the emotional toll brings upon the soldiers. Tim continues his use of imagery in “The Ghost Soldiers,” as he describes, “Together we understood what terror was: you’re not human anymore…You slip out of your own skin, like molting, shedding your own history and your own future.” (200). Tim begins by explaining how “together” him and the soldiers “understood” the horrible aspects of war, which helps establish a bond between the soldiers since they have a mutual understanding of emotions and fears that many others do not. However, this connection between Tim and the other men does not appear as enough to help him overcome the terrors of war because he does not see himself as “human anymore,” let alone part of the man he once was. By using hyperbole within his imagery and describing that he feels like the future is “molting” away, this connotes with the effects of a molten lava destroying everything that comes accross it during an eruption, with the war acting as a natural disaster and his emotions that provide him with a sense of humanity being destroyed. This is further seen when the author describes himself as slipping out of his skin, because the effects of such a disastrous war are ruining him from the inside out through the psychological happening in his brain as a result of being involved in the front line of the war. Through using such vivid imagery, O’Brien makes it clear how the terror of war overpowers those involved and prevents them from feeling a sense of normalcy as humans.
Tim O’Brien continues to use imagery to show how the emotions and the feelings they bring out never fade. Tim O’Brien uses imagery in chapter Night Life when Rat Kiley hits an emotional breaking point in front of Mitchell Sanders and explains, “These pictures in my head they won’t quit. I’ll see a guy’s liver. The actual liver” (211). By first describing how the mental images in Rat Kiley’s mind “won’t quit,” O’Brien is trying to tell the reader that traumatic experiences like seeing a body part that belonged to a once living person do not disappear even after many of the violent situations that the soldiers are forced to experience. Because it was a body part separated from a soldier, it becomes clear that the individual “liver” that Rat Kiley is talking about represents the idea of death because he becomes once agained stunned at the constant images of things or people that are not alive and functioning. Rat Kiley’s fixation on this image of death, even if it seems less signifigant than other violent experiences that he has witnessed, demonstrates how powerful traumatic memories are because they are essentially ingrained in the brain. As a result, Rat Kiley’s feelings of trauma show how the physical experiences that one has in war are far less powerful than the emotions and memories that follow them. Tim O’Brien also uses imagery in Notes when Norman Bowker is talking about reaching an emotional downfall years after the war and how he continued to lose himself. He says, “There’s no place to go. Not just in this lousy little town. In general my life, I mean it’s almost like I got killed over in Nam[…]Hard to describe..feels like i’m in deep shit,” (150). Describing how he almost got killed although he is physically alive shows how and his sense of being a functional human is lost because of how traumatized he is and how much loss he has experienced. By also explaining that he has no place to go and feels as though he is in “deep shit,” Bowker seems to be accepting his defeat to no longer being able to handle his emotions or putting the past behind him. As a result, his emotions are so distorted by the war that he no longer has a new way of expressing them in a way that helps him cope or finding a purpose that allows him to feel a peace of mind and sense of humanity. O’Brien demonstrates how individuals whose minds are torn apart by war cannot simply forget the traumatic experiences they were forced to endure, as these experiences create everlasting emotions that often affect them negatively.
After analyzing The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, the imagery used by the author demonstrates how not only does war rob those who participate in it of a feeling of peace and normalcy, but these emotions that are brought by traumatic physical events are much more powerful. By spreading this message, the author is speaking for the many soldiers who are still affected and face emotional turmoil as a result of witnessing or taking part in action on the front line of war.