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The Things They Carried

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In the story “The things they carried”, author Tim O’Brien highlights the scene of a warzone in Burma but mingles his own self in the actual theme of the story, which leaves the author as an unreliable narrator. The story goes on with the intention as Brien wants to prove a point by showing the hardships his fellow men went through and how he helped them to get rid of them. This is particularly observed in the last chapter where Brien attempts to give a twist to the actual story by admitting that his imagination is the reason why he is able to grapple his personal guilt and remorse.


Alpha company is led by Jimmy Cross who believes in his abilities as a company leader, but also wants to prove that he is a good soldier who follows orders without hassle. He wants to get rid of the guilt of loss of his company men because of his over involvement in his love. A guilt which he finds unable to forget since it took the lives of Levender and Kiowa, two of his subordinates. It is notable that the influence seen in this theme suggests that the narrator is allowing his personal experiences with just a name change.

More hints will follow. Kiowa is the closest of Brien’s friends and quite in nature but big at heart. He died while the company mapped at a place that was likely to be on the enemy’s watchlist.  Kiowa’s death remains a central theme throughout the story and other chapters see Brien remembering him often.

Impact of War

Throughout the story, the author seems to be under the influence of guilt as if he wants to correct things that went wrong. He starts his journey from Vietnam where has was a soldier and this struggle lasted till his advent in Burma where he had the worst of accidents. He wants to rectify his guilt by presenting the positive side of his relation with his collegues and subordinates while also seems to struggle to prove why and how he got involved in love while he was on duty.

Not that being in love was a bad thing until he got two of his best friends killed. His justification for his acts and mistakes are enough proof of how badly he messed things up as the Alpha company leader. In the longer run, such blunders became nightmares and lifetime horrors for the author. He also blames that war is a horrible event which turns a rational and clear headed person into committing unforced errors like he did himself.

The death of Jimmy has left a profound effect on the entire platoon because of his self-sacrifying attitude. Not only he gives up his love for the sake of focussing on the job when he burnt all her letters, but he also feels the pain and anguish of every member of his platoon. He is more than willing to go any heights for his companions. His attitude has helped his fellow soldiers Kiowa and Baker to carry on without having any hint of grief or crippling. (Cathering, 249)

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Sanders is another interesting character as he has multiple issues that he is going through simultaneously such as a sense of irony, his loyalty towards his platoon and companion soldiers so much so that he refused to help Brien to inflict a revenge on the medic for the sake of his well-being and also helped the soldier Kiley, when he decided to leave the Vietnam war theater by shooting himself.

Sanders is a firm believer that war scenario is far from a story telling and the two often don’t go together. War event is usually free from a moral because what we read in stories and heroics, they have little or nothing to do with reality at all. A warzone is not a moral class where one goes and learns a lesson so that they cannot be repeated. He seems to make this reasoning to present the situation in an acceptable way where their platoon listened unknown and disturbing sounds that none of them could explain.

Kiowa is a different character than Sanders and Bowker as he loves to make his platoon members feel comfortable and relaxed while conducting their operations. Without being overly critical to anyone, he also maintains a sense of rationality as he criticized the event when Brien killed a Vietnamese soldier without who wasn't posing any threat. His is a prisoner of conscious which prevails his thoughts and actions more often than not. He belives that we must analyze and justify our actions without remorse. Here, his native background is visible as he follows the Baptist attitude and forces his companions to do their self-analysis which baffles platoon members.


Throughout the story, O’Brien is endeavoring to show his innocence and justification of his actions that while in a war situation, a platoon commander does not always have time to analyse and think over situations, particularly when you are on enemy territory. Even if he was a soldier in a modern theater such as Iraq or Afghanistan, he would have shown a similar attitude because soldiers like him always present a case for them along with their justifications. They blame others for their mistakes and write stories years after they fall short of what a soldier needs to do while in warzone, and Brien is a precise case of an attempt to remove guilt.

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