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The Representation Of The Vietnam War Trauma In The Things They Carried By Tim O'Brien

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The warriors that fought in the Vietnam War were forced to bear numerous extraordinarily shocking encounters. It was these occasions that prompted incredible human feelings, those sentiments that were the things they carried inside. All that they carried impacted them whether it was physical or mental. Everything they carried could in one way or another be the reason for them to physically separate. Agony, misfortune, a feeling of wellbeing, and dread were likely the most testing enthusiastic, and mental affections for them to convey. Torment: one of the most devastating feelings that people can understanding. Torment is caused from numerous points of view. There is enthusiastic agony and physical torment. The troopers of the Vietnam War felt both of these kinds of torment during their one-year trip in Vietnam and needed to convey this feeling with them. The torment that was felt on the body was made by the entirety of the exacting things that the officers conveyed. War has made a clash of profound quality and unethical behavior; wanting to ensure the nation and the rights you hold dear to your heart while likewise stripping endless others of their own opportunity, lives, and friends and family. Tim O’Brien shows by composing the story through the perspective of the fighter and the weight they have they carry on their shoulders each day even post-war. The most significant of these physical items were the various weapons, explosives, and ammo cartridges that must be carried at all times: “Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs… …and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 12 and 18 pounds. They all carried steel helmets that weighed 5 pounds. On their feet, they carried jungle boots—2.1 pounds.

In this example, after numerous long stretches of carrying numerous amounts of supplies, the troopers would begin to separate physically. Weakness and muscle agony would begin to cloud their vision and judgment. The heaviness of the things that they carried had a wearing effect on their bodies yet the officers needed to persevere. These provisions were the most critical to the officers since they were the most integral to the survival of their units. Each and every soldier needed to convey these provisions with them consistently. These articles were the key factor that set off this physical torment, which they needed to convey both actually, and inwardly. The entirety of the troopers were expected to prop up so as to endure the war. These fighters likewise needed to persevere through excruciating torment from the things that they carried, and this feeling must be placed on top of all the physical challenges they were forced to muster through as well. Various things could cause immense pain that they worked through. A typical agony that troopers felt each and every day was the torment of one of their companions losing their lives. The type of pain of seeing someone you could consider a loved one shot and killed or even brutally beaten would never leave them, yet they had to trek forward. This can be seen in “The Things They Carried” when Tim talks about Kiowa and Curt Lemon “I’m forty-three years old, and a writer now, and the war has been over for a long while. Much of it is hard to remember. I sit at this typewriter and stare through my words and watch Kiowa sinking into the deep muck of a shit field, or Curt Lemon hanging in pieces from a tree, and as I write about these things, the remembering is turned into a kind of rehappening. Kiowa yells at me. Curt Lemon steps from the shade into bright sunlight, his face brown and shining, and then he soars into a tree. The bad stuff never stops happening: it lives in its own dimension, replaying itself over and over.”

There’s no better explanation for this. Tim’s words prove that there is no greater loss than losing someone close, especially when you’re there to protect him and the other you love. Grief is a horrible emotion to feel and in so many ways can be damaging and debilitating. Many in their lives have had to experience pain in one form or another, but the Vietnam War soldiers had to experience pain in an entirely new way; they had to endure their suffering. Each American soldier had to bear both emotional, mental pain, and physical pain continuously day in and day out.

Such items they found in the pockets of one of their dead friends were most likely to connect him to home. There might have been pictures of a wife or girlfriend in the pocket. Someone who loved and respected the soldier. Another part of the grief was about someone you met or lost. They’d still bear their friend’s death, no matter where they were. The sense of loss they felt was more of a mental thing, but it has the same impact as the tangible objects carried in the war. There was a kind of gloomy feeling to this emotion that was carrying. The loss of a close person or someone under your defense could drastically change a soldier’s way of thinking. Although this loss would make the soldier feel terrible, it was like a wake-up call. This ‘wake-up call’ would snap soldiers back into reality remind them of the stakes at hand and how real the consequences can be. This happened to Lieutenant Jimmy Cross in “The Things They Carried”. He had some of his civilian things on him like notes and cards. They had a very crippling effect on him. All these cards and pictures would do was distract him from the war. All we wanted to do was to go home and see Martha, the one person that he loved at the time, again. This distracted him from what was happening and when Ted Lavender died he promised to get his act together. “He was now determined to perform his duties firmly and without negligence… …On the march, he would impose strict field discipline. He would be careful to send out flank security, to prevent straggling or bunching up, to keep his troops moving at the proper place and at the proper interval… …He would accept the blame for what had happened to Ted Lavender. He would be a man about it. He would look them in the eyes, keeping his chin level, and he would issue the new SOPs in a calm, impersonal tone of voice, a lieutenant’s voice, leaving no room for argument or discussion.”

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The feeling of safety can be very misleading. It is easily connected to the things people carry on them. In the war, many of the soldiers felt a sense of safety because of all of their equipment. Their guns, grenades, ammunition, and body armor, were all meant to provide safety but none of these things guaranteed it. Safety was a feeling that could make people think that they were invincible, and which could distort their reality of the war. Safety can come from other things as well. In the book “The Great Train Robbery” Henry Fowler the general manager of Huddleston & Bradford found safety through the key that he carried on his neck at all times. There was a war between two classes of the Victorian era in London, and these two classes wanted power over the other. Fowler thinks that the safety of his job and the safety of his company can be protected by this key that he never takes off: “I keep it,” he said, “about my neck.” And he patted his starched shirt front with a flat hand. “I wear it at all times, even while bathing—indeed, even in my sleep. It is never off my person.” He smiled broadly. “So, gentlemen, you see that the crude attempt of a mere child from the dangerous classes can hardly be of concern to Huddleston & Bradford, for the little ruffian had no more chance of stealing that bullion than I have of—well, of flying to the moon.”

Unfortunately for Fowler, he was mistaken. He thought that carrying the key would give him safety but in the end, he was wrong. He thought that the safety of the key would lead to the safety of his company, which in the grand reality of it all, was false. This proves that just because one carries objects that could help safety one cannot carry anything that will guarantee it.

Fear was possibly the hardest thing for the Vietnam soldiers to carry with them. Every single person who was involved in the horrors that happened in Vietnam definitely carried this emotion. In the blog by Jeffrey Michael Bryant called “The Next Level of Being” he rates fear as the worst emotion that a human can experience. Most other negative human emotions stem from fear, which is why he believes that fear, can psychologically cripple a human more than any other emotion. Unfortunately, most of the soldiers experienced fear every second and had to carry this fear with them. In some cases, this fear is “picked up” by the soldiers even before they went to war. The book “The Things They Carried” shows this well when Tim states “I sometimes felt the fear spreading inside me like weeds. I imagined myself dead. I imagined myself doing things I could not do – charging an enemy position, taking aim at another human being”. This passage was from when Tim O’Brien was being drafted into the war. He felt all of the fears that the soldiers were going to feel but he felt them before he was even there. Fear is an emotion that can stem out to many other emotions, and for the soldiers of the war, they had to carry all of these emotions, plus the raw emotion of fear. Images and pictures stuck in their head, so vile that many of the soldiers would never recover. All of this had to be carried and endured throughout the soldier’s time in Vietnam.

Everything that was talked about in this essay was things that had to be carried by the soldiers of the Vietnam War. Every psychological, and emotional feeling that was felt by the soldiers had an effect that may never be undone. These memories will still be vivid in the minds of the Veterans of the Vietnam War, but overall pain, loss, fear, and the feeling of safety will always be the biggest burden that the soldiers of the Vietnam War had to carry. Their memories of the war will live on until the day that they die.

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The Representation Of The Vietnam War Trauma In The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien. (2021, August 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“The Representation Of The Vietnam War Trauma In The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien.” Edubirdie, 16 Aug. 2021,
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