Tim O'Brien's short story "The things they carried," centers on how the beast of war engulfs his soldiers, consequently calling for an unconquerable front. However, almost all the soldiers are taken against their will into the battle, further being asked to kill and die for an unclear course. The call exposed them to uncontrollable trauma and fears, which they needed to overcome by responding with some unusual means.
Moreover, the soldiers are not allowed to cry if one of them dies or kills someone. Exposure of the weaknesses is only permitted within themselves. Nonetheless, the weaknesses only remind the soldiers that they are not strong enough, a feeling that leads them into a never-ending series of fear, leading to them adopting various methods in an attempt to deal with their fears.
First, the soldiers apply crude language to respond to their fears and the terrible actions that happen on the battlefield. For instance, when their colleague is shot in the head, they carefully avoid applying terms like killed or dead but use more resounding words like greased or zapped while zipping.
Tim O' Brien later understands the soldiers and blends in by accepting the mentality brought by the "hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness " (19). Furthermore, the use of the words "terrible softness" reflects on the vulnerability of the soldiers' emotions, particularly the threats they faced from their enemies.
Furthermore, the soldiers on realizing that they have failed to control their fears and consequently themselves, resort to controlling others instead. For instance, when Curt Lemon dies, an innocent baby buffalo is brutally killed by Rat Kiley as a means of doing away with his fears.
The soldiers all "stood there watching, feeling all of the kinds of things, but there wasn't a great deal of pity for the baby buffalo" (75). Also, the platoon decides to burn down the whole village as a means of downplaying their fears shortly after the killing of Ted Lavender.
Moreover, in the course of the war, O'Brien's soldiers are expected to be impenetrable. The soldiers are only allowed to lash out the feelings of the fear of death, personal failings, and any tragedy that occurs on the battlefield. Similarly, when Rat Kiley is reminded of the inevitable mortality and grief that exists in the times of war, he chooses to display his pain by unleashing violence to the innocent lives confined within the spheres of the war.
O'Brien and his men resort to the use of various ruthless codes in an attempt to deal with their fears. The codes are disturbing, the most specific gruesome and anticipated show of death and gore is evident where Tim O'Brien plainly states that " the platoon carried a soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing."
To the soldiers, the act of blushing was more grievous than the tragedy of a grenade, horror from a P.O.W camp, and more than death itself. O'Brien expects his soldiers to fear humiliation above anything else since succumbing to humiliation brings about fear.
Nonetheless, in the chapter "The Man I Killed," O'Brien tries to justify his unhealthy and wicked way of dealing with fear. After staring at the young soldier's corpse he had just murdered, Tim O'Brien makes a strange introduction of the body and reveals to the readers the numerous, unavoidable information concerning the dead young man. However, O' Brien is shortly hit by the reality that nothing he does can justify his action.
Tim O'Brien says, "his one eye was shut, his other was a star-shaped" (118). By making these statements, O'Brien shifts the attention and hence averting his fears by letting people focus on the gruesome physicality of his dead victim.
The patriarchal code of men applied by the soldiers renders them emotionless and, therefore, an efficient tool of dealing with their fears but later exposing them to mental torture and trauma. A few years after returning home, Norman Bowker hangs himself, showing how disturbed the soldiers were.
Furthermore, Norman creates an imaginary conversation with his father and several other people present in the little town, during the conversation he talks on how he "almost won the silver star" (135), the medal is associated with an uncommon display of bravery.
Moreover, the use of toxic masculinity as a means of overcoming fear is eminent among the soldiers. For instance, when the dentist arrives to check on the soldiers' teeth, Curt Lemon is filled with fear as a result of him not being able to handle his fears. Eventually, he collapses moments before even being attended to by the dentist.
Late that night, Curt Lemon determined to face and respond to his fears, walks into the dentist's room, and demands that his tooth be yanked out. However, the dentist noticed nothing wrong with it. Through this act, Curt Lemon regains his masculinity.
Denial of the past is also effectively used by the soldiers to hide and fight their fears. Some years after Norman Bowker returns home, the trauma that follows him vividly shows that his action on the battlefield was beyond human capabilities and, to some extent, profoundly inhuman.
Norman Bowker was "braver than he ever thought possible, but...had not been so brave as he wanted to be" (147). It is clear that he has failed to bear the responsibility of his past actions; further, unlike his friends Curt Lemon and Rat Kiley, he sees not any chance of redeeming himself.
Lastly, Tim O'Brien resorts to the use of constant rage on others as a method of dealing with his fears. After brutally killing the young soldier in the chapter "The Man I Killed," Tim O'Brien, realizing that he lacks proper explanations of his actions, decides to be highly sensitive.
Furthermore, when the other soldiers realize that Tim O'Brien is unable to handle his emotions properly decides to tell him "stop starring" (122). This elaborated on how the soldiers were unpleased with how he handled his fears and instilled fear on him instead.
In conclusion, "The Things They carried" carefully elucidates how war brings about terrible fear and trauma. Furthermore, the ability of personality transformation through war is imminent, and the characters resulting from the cruel environment created by the war equally cause fear on the soldier and victims. Consequently, the fears developed during such times call for different actions from the affected individuals. In this case, Tim O'Brien and his fellow soldiers use various means to attend to their fears, some of the methods applied by the soldiers significantly hinder their ability to distinguish between what is morally right or wrong.
O'Brien, Tim. The things they carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
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