The Dual Nature of War and Love: Analyzing 'The Things They Carried' by Tim O'Brien - Free Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  2141 Words
Date:  2024-01-28

Love stories can be used as significant fiction in place of war stories. In most of these stories, most of the audiences do not realize the message behind them. As a result, sometimes, they need the author to clearly indicate the theme of love at the end of the story. Love is one of the most frequent themes in literature, whether romantic, platonic, lifelong, or fleeting. War stories create a memorable personal experience involving an element of hardship, and sometimes the audience may fail to pinpoint crucial lessons. However, authors can use the power of love to nurture meaningful relationships and teach important lessons within the same war stories. The book, The Things We Carried by Tim O’Brien discusses a love story in the context of a war. In his discussion, he says a true war story is a “love story.” This is true because if the story is only about war, the story would be incomplete and would make the audience feel disconnected. Therefore, this essay aims to critically analyze the truthfulness of a statement a true war story is a love story using characters and events from the book.

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A love story consists of elements such as guilt, death, memory, and emotions. Notably, these elements are also associated with a war story. Therefore, it is true to say that war and love stories are structurally and functionally the same, which justifies the reason for O’Brien saying his story is a love story. Additionally, love is not only a component of the war story, but also the reasons behind the existence of both stories are the same. For instance, writing or talking about memories of loved ones can be therapeutic (Roe et al. 808). Both war stories and love stories consist of losing close friends, and characters in both of them can use a therapeutic approach to solve their depression issues related to negative memories. For instance, O’Brien receives a letter from Norman explaining his memories. He says, “It occurred to me that the act of writing had led me through a swirl of memories that might otherwise have ended in paralyzing or worse” (O’Brien 152). However, Bowker was not able to open up and talk about his story; as a result, it led to him hanging himself. It is evident Bowker had no idea how to continue with his life after returning from the war and needed someone to talk to. Similarly, there is a high probability of a person killing himself or herself after a breakup if they fail to find a person they can freely talk to in the love stories.

Just like a war, love is also associated with setbacks such as heartbreaks. Love has been used as an epilogue or postscript for the story of Martha and Jimmy Cross. The first O’Brien reference to the fallout of Vietnam is his explanation involving how love was a significant setback for Cross after returning from the war. After the end of the war, most of the soldiers returned to their families and loved ones to achieve to accomplish what they had put on hold, such as pursuing a love life. However, it did not turn out as they expected as most of their girlfriends broke up with them. From Martha’s letters, it is clear Jimmy put faith in Martha because he could not trust the war itself as he considered her someone special he might want to start a life after returning from the war. This is also clear when the author says, “More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were chattier, elusive on the matter of love” (O’Brien 1). However, Martha did not love him back and this signifies the same struggles in war stories, such as failing to sometimes defeat the enemy. When soldiers go on a mission, they are not always certain of returning safely as some might die and others get lifetime injuries. Similarly, this quote also illustrates the uncertainties involved in love, particularly when Martha fails to love Cross back the way he loves her. It is not always certain if a person falls in love; he or she will be loved back (Wyatt and Tamas 5).

Additionally, many people fail to understand the essence of why nations engage in war. Similarly, the meaning of the word love is complicated to understand (Morrison et al. 725). Cross is skeptical of love and hopes the signature of love in Martha’s letters has a significant meaning. His skepticism becomes clearer when he goes through Martha’s letters as he tries to keep himself busy and forget the fear of the unknowns that he might face in the jungle. As the author illustrates, “the letters weighed 4 ounces. They were signed love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean he sometimes pretended it meant” (O’Brien 2). Notably, Martha did not even mention anything concerning Jimmy’s war in the letters. Later, Jimmy realizes Martha never loved him, which impacts the emotions associated with Lavender’s death, evident in his conversation with O’Brien. This is because he did not understand why Martha failed to love him back.

Love is considered more complicated, just like engagement in a war, as the other partner might not be interested in various reasons. In Martha and Cross’s case, she became not interested because she thought she was incapable of love, and in the end, Cross’s obsession with her turned her off. He failed to understand these reasons and, in the process, got injured and did not want to linger too long on the topic involving Martha. When O’Brien suggests that he may write a story about Martha, Jimmy responds by saying, “Why not? Maybe she will read it and come begging. There is always hope, right? Make me a good guy, okay? Brave and handsome, all that stuff” (O’Brien 28). This signifies that Jimmy was still in love with Martha despite the complications of love even after the breakup and was still hurting. Additionally, it signifies that Jimmy still had feelings attached to Martha even after failing to start a relationship with her. Similarly, these memories and complications are also experienced in wars, and soldiers always carry the burden of losing their colleagues during the war. Some of them have difficulty understanding the events that led to their colleagues’ death and sometimes blame themselves.

The love story in the book is built on the basis of the things that the soldiers carried during the war. Additionally, the soldiers shared their memories with fellow soldiers while they were doing their mission in the war. This is also similar to how love couples always have the urge to share their memories with other people; although O’Brien has emphasized more on the soldiers and the war, he exhibits a different kind of love in various stories. For instance, he associates the letters that Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried to love. Cross was in love with Martha, and he carried the letters to remind him about her memories. Love is associated with the gifts and letters that people receive and use to remind them about their loved ones (Hassenzahl et al. 8). This is evident in the book where the author describes the experience of Jimmy, “in the late afternoon, after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire” (O’Brien 1). Similarly, after soldiers go to war, they are given a medal as a reminder of their victory.

Some of the O’Brien stories in The Things They Carried have started as a result of love. Therefore, love is regarded as an important piece in each of the soldier’s life. They can use it as a source of motivation to fight and emerge victorious to live another day for their loved ones. Therefore, under the circumstance of war, love is regarded as very important, whereby it gives soldiers comfort and provides a sense of home and hope. O’Brien has recalled his fellow soldier in one of the stories, Henry Dobbins while having a conversation with Jimmy Cross. He says, “Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose wrapped his neck as a comforter” (O’Brien 9). This is also associated with how the author associates the memory of loved ones with gifts. In the conversation, O’Brien has memories of Dobbins during the war, especially how he used the pantyhose as magic and made it through the fights unharmed. From the quote, it is evident Dobbins believed that the pantyhose kept him safe. In the real sense, the love he had for his girlfriend, which was linked to the pantyhose, was the real reason behind emerging unscathed in fights. Later, his girlfriend broke up with him; however, he continued his eccentric practice because he said the magic (love) did not go away. Soldiers’ lives might be disrupted by war nightmares, anxiety, and depression, and they may become emotionally detached (Beevers et al. 735). However, the things the soldiers would carry in the stories would help them overcome such challenges. This signifies that war stories can still emerge as love stories.

Soldiers make close friends in wars and refer to them as best friends. Similarly, love consists of two best friends loving one another. Additionally, losing loved ones, particularly best friends either in war or in a love relationship, can negatively affect emotions. When the authors narrate their stories, they express their interpretation and emotion in the story. O’Brien considers this as the story's truth. He has narrated the story of Lemon’s death multiple times, and it is evident love is also linked to emotions. In one of the stories, he states, “He was playing catch with Rat Kiley, laughing, and then he was dead. The trees were thick; it took nearly an hour to cut an LZ for the dust off” (O’Brien 74). As a result, the audience can predict that Rat Kiley really loved Curt Lemon as his death had a significant effect on his life. For instance, he engaged in a war with a baby buffalo, which he shot several times with no intention of killing it but to hurt it. He was experiencing the negative emotions associated with losing a close friend, evident in both a true war story and love stories.

Some people tend to express these love emotions physically, such as engaging in a war. Similarly, Kiley lets it out through the buffalo, “He stepped back and shot it through the right front knee. He shot it in the hindquarters and in the little hump at its back. He shot it twice in the flanks. It wasn’t to kill; it was to hurt” (O’Brien 74). In such a circumstance, the book’s audience might wonder whether the war story is a love story. Similarly, this is also illustrated when Kiowa is “under the mud and water, folded in with the war, and their only thought was to find him and dig him out and then move on to someplace dry and warm” (O’Brien 155). Azar always joked when other soldiers died in the war; however, he was serious and hurt by Kiowa’s death. Kiowa was among the best, and every soldier loved his company. As a result, their attempt to dig him out no matter the circumstance exhibits the love they had for him. This truly reflects their love towards Kiowa, which illustrates that love is an important aspect of a war story and cannot be omitted.

Soldiers can optimize the challenges associated with love as a distraction from thinking about war’s negative effects. This signifies that it is nearly impossible to narrate a war story without incorporating love stories in narrating the things that the soldiers carried including photographs. Lieutenant Cross had carried his two photographs of his lover Martha. During the night when the soldiers were not engaged in war, Cross was looking at Martha’s two photos. This was a good source of distraction to allow him to stop having negative thoughts regarding wars that occurred during the day. Instead, he would engage his mind in challenges of love, such as his girlfriend having many boyfrie...

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