Things They Carried By O`Briens In Timothy O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried, a number of insightful themes are forwarded by the author. One theme in particular interests me the most; the subject area is how people handle their emotions through the avoidance or distortion of reality. Specifically, throughout the novel a number of characters respond to the emotionally charged realities they are confronted with in one of two major ways, distortion or escapism. This pattern, shown throughout the novel, surveys one manner in which humans approach the rough emotions they carry with them throughout their life. To support this thesis I will analyze a number of character’s responses to emotional stressors and compare them against my claims of escape and distortion reactions.
I have identified two major ways the characters I analyze respond to their realities in this novel, distortion and escapism. When I identify something as distortion, I intend to imply that the characters take the edge off of the reality of their situations by making the events they encounter seem less real. Examples of such behavior would include finding humor in otherwise horrifying situations or even romanticizing the environment around them to make it seem something different than what it is. The escapist manner of reacting to the intensity of emotions is to distance oneself from the actual events or surrounding. To accomplish this all a character needs to do is to daydream themselves away from the problem or to create alternative realities in their own mind. It is important to establish that O’Brien develops the premise that the emotions and situations these men had to deal with were very intense and traumatic.
Beyond the more or less obvious contention that dealing with death and war might be painful, there is textual support that O’Brien is trying to get this message across. On page 20, the narrator says, “They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing-these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight.” This analysis sets up textual basis for my theme. If it is true that these soldiers experience (d) tremendous emotions then there is room to analyze how they go about carrying their tangible “emotional baggage.” Additionally, it should be noted that the characters I analyze in this paper are only a small representative sample of the larger number of characters who may very well fit my within my thesis statement. It is also noteworthy to mention that how I classify a character in terms of their response to emotional intensity-escape or distortion-is very much a debatable contention.
Given that, I do believe, however, that my conclusions will stand on the merit of my analysis. In the first chapter, Timothy O’Brien wastes no time examining one coping mechanism, escapism. Escapism is a rather basic way of handling intense emotions. Timothy O’Brien first introduces a character named Lieutenant Jimmy Cross who exhibits the escapist manner of dealing with his emotions. Jimmy Cross is the Lieutenant of the group of men that this story focuses on.
Jimmy Cross is first introduced fantasizing about his love, a girl name Martha. Martha is a student back home in New Jersey and for all intents and purposes does not return Lieutenant Cross’s love. On pages 3 and 4, the narrator comments that, “They [the letters] were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant.” Thus, despite the fact that Lieutenant Cross acknowledges that Martha probably does not return his love, he still daydreams about falling in love with Martha and the times they spent together before the war. The somewhat excessive, so it seems to the reader, amount of time Jimmy Cross spends thinking about Martha may indeed be a failure of reading. We ask ourselves why it is that Jimmy Cross spends so much time thinking about Martha? This and other similar questions about the daydreaming provide room for interpretation. This daydreaming of Martha is a way of escaping the intensity of emotion Jimmy Cross has to bear during the war.
We find out that in the week before Ted Lavender dies Jimmy Cross daydreams a great deal about Martha. This daydreaming helps to take him away from the intensity of the war. On pages 9 and 10 the narrator describes how Lieutenant Cross would walk along his missions thinking about spending time with Martha. While on tour, Lieutenant Cross once received a pebble in a letter from Martha. This inspired him to daydream about how she must have kept it in her breast.
He escaped to the beach where she found the pebble and vividly thought about the waves crashing upon the beach of the Jersey shoreline. The narrator identifies how distracting this daydreaming is when he says, “He [Jimmy Cross] had difficulty keeping his attention on the war” (9-10). The daydreaming about Martha is a way that Cross took himself completely away from the war. He could be thousands of miles away on a quiet beach in Jersey as the war raged on around him. Another character who demonstrates escapism is our child of the Song Tra Bong, Mary Anne.
This act of escape is slightly more radical than Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’s response, however. The chapter, “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” allows the reader a chance to evaluate a more extreme reaction to the emotions of war. The story of Mary Anne begins with her boyfriend who is part of a small medical regiment located along a river, called the Song Tra Bong. Rat Kiley is the narrator of the story; he was also a part of this regiment, along with Mary Anne’s boyfriend, Mark Fossie. Rat Kiley explains how Mark Fossie arranged to have his girlfriend brought over to Vietnam, so they could be together. Marry Anne comes over to Vietnam and is delivered to the medical outpost by way of supplies chopper.
Mary Anne is depicted by O’Brien to be very innocent. She is described as a soft, curious, and friendly person adorned in her pink sweater. The feminine elements are stressed in the description of her in order to juxtapose her against the harsher, more masculine, surroundings. It is this dissimilarity, between Mary Anne’s serenity and the war’s roughness, which allows us to see how fully the war could force a person to confront an uncomfortable reality. As the story progresses Mary Anne begins to change from her bubbly and alive pink sweater persona into a more withdrawn individual. On page 109, Rat Kiley describes, “The way she quickly fell into …