The Things They Carried' Loss of Innocence Essay

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In the novel “The Things They Carried” talks about how war can take a toll on a soldier and his comrades. The author Tim O’Brien addresses his readers in this book about how difficult it is for soldiers to adapt back to reality after the war. This novel talks about the loss of innocence that develops throughout the novel and affects the lives of Tim O’Brien, Mary Anne, and Norman Bowker.

First I would to look at Tim O’Brien’s life. His life throughout the novel has shown me how you just can't let things go. Throughout this novel, Tim O’Brien enters the war as a scared young man and would have shame if he didn’t go to war, but throughout the novel, he can’t cope with his past. Tim O’Brien’s innocence is lost after O’Brien kills somebody in war. O’Brien can not get over the fact that he has just killed a man. O’Brien just keeps on describing how the guy looks before and after he was shot. “His jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star-shaped hole, his eyebrows were thin and arched like a woman’s, his nose was undamaged, there was a slight tear at the lobe of one ear, his clean black hair was swept upward into a cowlick at the rear of the skull, his forehead was lightly freckled, his fingernails were clean, the skin at his left cheek was peeled back in three ragged strips, his right cheek was smooth and hairless, there was a butterfly on his chin, his neck was open to the spinal cord and the blood there was thick and shiny and it was this wound that had killed him”(pg.118). O’Brien then sits across the man studying him in pear silence and can’t take his eyes off of what he has done. Just knowing the fact that he has ended someone’s life in war tears him apart. He thinks to himself that he has ruined this guy's career outside of the war. “His chest was sunken and poorly muscled- a scholar, maybe. His life was now a constellation of possibilities. So, yes, maybe a scholar. And for years, despite his family’s poverty, the man I killed would have been determined to continue his education in mathematics”(pg.122). In the chapter “Good Form” the author Tim O’Brien talks about himself now and how he faces guilt and grief. It has been 20 years since he has been in war and still is battling through pain and suffering from his past. “And now, twenty years later, I’m left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief”(pg.172).

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In the book The Things They Carried that fascinates me the most is Mary Anne. This character doesn’t show up until the chapter “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, this is a good example of a character to show that the war could show the loss of innocence in someone. Mary Anne came to Vietnam a sweet girl who was curious about the environment she was in, she would ask about how things worked like trip flare mines and claymores. She wanted to explore so much and in this case, curiosity did kill the cat. “Her body seemed foreign somehow- too stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be. The bubbliness was gone. The nervous giggling, too. When she laughed now, which was rare, it was only when something struck her as truly funny. Her voice seemed to reorganize itself at a lower pitch”(pg.95). Mary Anne wasn’t like your average high school girl who would normally be scared of blood, needles, and tasks that require getting hands dirty.” At the end of the second week, when four casualties came in, Mary Anne wasn’t afraid to get her hands bloody. At times, she seemed fascinated by it. Not the gore so much, but the adrenaline buzz that went with the job, that quick hot rush in your veins when the choppers settled down and you had to do things fast and right. No time for sorting through options, no thinking at all; you just stuck your hands in and started plugging up holes. She was quiet and steady. She didn’t back off from the ugly cases”(pg.93). At the end of this chapter Mary Anne gets lost in war and goes to the jungle and never returns. This is a perfect example of how this character lost its innocence from the war, from being a sweet little girl to being a vicious killing machine

The next victim to lose their innocence from the war would be Norman Bowker. After the war Norman felt like he couldn’t fit in with reality after war, also he was lonely and he had a lot on his mind about the war. The author tells us that Norman is under a lot of stress because he keeps on talking about how Norman wants to talk about how he almost won the silver star on the river of the Song Tra Bong, but he has nobody to talk about this. So the author puts us in Norman’s mind and Norman is thinking about how the conversation would go if he was talking to his father. “If Sally had not been married, or if his father were not such a baseball fan, it would have been a good time to talk…..He would’ve explained to his father that none of these decorations was for uncommon valor”(pg.134-135). During this time too the author shows us that Norman is going through a lot of grief or pain from the war, from that small event in the Song Tra Bong river. He feels like he needs someone to talk to because he has a lot on his chest. In the next chapter “Notes”, the author gets word that Norman hung himself in a YMCA, Tim O’Brien gets a letter from Norman explaining why he can’t live in the real world. “I received a long, disjointed letter in which Bowker described the problem of finding a meaningful use for his life after the war”(pg.149). Another quote that shows Norman Bowker’s loss of innocence is” ‘The thing is’, he wrote, ‘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. That night when Kiowa got wasted, I sort of sank into the sewage with him… Feels like I’m still in deep shit’”(pg.150).

The loss of innocence has been described and shown as the author takes you through the lives of Tim O’Brien, Mary Anne, and Norman Bowker. It first shows you how innocent and human they were. But after the war it turns them into totally different people that are filled with grief or that can’t sustain back to the reality of the real world.

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