Symbols of Transformation in the Man He Killed and The Things They Carried

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In The Things They Carried, Tim O’brien shows how symbolism enforces the power of storytelling through the many personality shifts within a variation of characters. Throughout the novel, one is exposed to a various amount of ideas and concepts that all connect together in an orderly way. O’brien is able to accomplish such a task by representing life concepts through different transformations in the attitude/take on the war from each character. Mary Ann Bell is the symbol of American arrogance in contrast with the new vietnamese environment of war and destruction, where she shifts personalities according to her environment. The soldier that Tim killed symbolizes O’brien’s innocence leaving him and his first step towards eternal guilt in relation to this one short, but highly impactful, event in the war. Linda represents the first death experience O’brien lives through and closes his statement on storytelling and its impacts.

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Through storytelling, Tim O’brien is able to portray the transformation of Mary Ann Bell as a symbol of American arrogance. Mary Ann only shows up in one single story, ”Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.” And even though her appearance was short in The Things They Carried, she’s unquestionably essential. Mary Ann appears in Vietnam from The United States to visit her companion Mark Fossie. Mary Ann shows up, looking very ‘American’, as shown through Rat’s description of her unusual outfit in Vietnam but typical back in America: “I swear to God, man, she’s got on culottes. White culottes and this sexy pink sweater.” (86). She acts like a vacationer, going where she satisfies and wondering about the straightforwardness of the nation. She swims uninhibitedly in a stream where she could be an objective of rifleman discharge. She even strolls through a Vietnamese town, shouting over how charming it is, absent to the risk she faces. She speaks to the presumption of the American mentality that the Vietnam strife would be a basic in-and-out undertaking. However, Mary Ann gradually gets fixated on Vietnam and the war. By the end of the chapter, her innocence completely disappears. She now compliments her charming pink sweater with a jewelry of human tongues. She spends time with the toughest of the bunch, puzzling Green Berets and leaves her poor moronic companion behind as she spends her nighttimes out on snare. Later on, the author lets the reader discover that she and Mark have been as one since sixth grade, and they intend to become husband and wife, have 3 children, and reside in a charming little house in the suburbs. She stands out strongly from the truth of life for American officers in Vietnam. Americans didn’t foresee the colossal multifaceted nature of the situation in Vietnam. Mary Ann’s initial innocence mirrors this. Mary Ann comes to represent the impact of Vietnam on American troopers. Past the war, the territory and culture themselves are totally unfamiliar to American officers. They are outsiders in an odd land, and this circumstance is exaggerated through the change in Mary Ann. When she shows up she is the most run of the mill American young lady one can envision. As she begins to transform, this imagery/symbol shifts as well. She trims her hair short and swears off cleanliness. She disposes of her gems and loses all enthusiasm for her look. All she thinks about is the territory – she craves it and needs to expend it. She can now “feel close” to her own body, feel her “blood moving” and all these nights out on ambush makes her feel like she is “full of electricity” and “glowing in the dark” (88). She is now understanding the danger perfectly and taking it into account to her decisions later on in life. The last anybody sees of her, she’s taking off into the peaks unaccompanied, completely consumed by the entrancing, secretive place where she is Vietnam. This mutation described by O’brien is absolutely necessary to the overall story, yet Mary Ann’s appearance in the book is very short. Her simple presence and interaction with her environment creates a message because of her importance as a symbol. When one first meets Mary Ann, she can be perused as a symbol for some to most Americans who stayed in the United States. Mary Ann is crisp, guiltless, and dumbfounded. She lands in Vietnam with pretty garments and is portrayed like the typical American lady around this time period. The environment changed her, and made her discover a whole new world crushed by sadness and destruction.

Another example of how human symbols are created to demonstrate a transformation in the novel through storytelling is in “The Man I Killed”. Tim shifts from an innocent and afraid view on war to an empathetic and realistic view after his first kill. In this chapter, the youngster speaks to the entirety of the anonymous Vietnamese dead. There is a gigantic amount of dead Vietnamese, and many went unidentified, consumed by napalm or covered by the American troopers: “There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I’m left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief” (118). With the young man on the trail, O’Brien is trying to give the Vietnamese victims some dignity and an identity. Despite the fact that O’Brien is indistinct about whether he really tossed a projectile and murdered a man outside My Khe, his memory of the man’s carcass is solid and repeating, symbolizing humankind’s blame over war’s appalling demonstrations. In ‘The Man I Killed,’ O’Brien separates himself from the memory by talking as an outsider looking in and developing dreams regarding what the man probably been similar to before he was murdered. O’Brien wonders about the destruction of his body, thinking more than once about the star-formed gap that is in the spot of his eye and the stripped back cheek. The portrayal serves to remove O’Brien from the truth of his activities since no place in its extensive detail are O’Brien’s sentiments about the circumstance referenced. His blame is clear, in any case, in his envisioning of a life for the man he executed that incorporates a few perspectives that are like his very own life.

Linda is the embodiment of components from early on in life to be taken back over inspiration and storytelling. A schoolmate of O’Brien’s that passed away from a cerebral tumor in the fifth grade, Linda, represents O’Brien’s confidence that narrating is the most ideal route to arrange torment and perplexity in his point of view, particularly the misery which encompasses demise. Linda being O’Brien’s first romantic experience made her furthermore his first involvement regarding the subject of death. His evacuation into his fantasies after her burial service gave him startling help and justification. He mentions this idea later in the book when he says that “stories can save us” and can make “the dead sometimes smile and return to the world” (229). Through his fantasies, Linda would be alive, which shows that through imagination, in terms of narrating in this specific case the dead could, in a spiritual way, keep on living. Linda’s quality in the chapter makes O’Brien’s previous Vietnam anecdotes progressively widespread. The struggle he went through in his childhood lights up the manner in which he manages demise in the war and after, and additionally clarifies why he shifted to the art of narration and writing fiction to manage life’s troubles. Much the same as Linda, Norman Bowker and Kiowa are deified through O’Brien’s accounts. Their ordinary lives transform to becoming increasingly noteworthy, more than their emotional passings. O’Brien understands that he keeps on sparing his very own life through storytelling as well as the perception of Linda.

In conclusion, what O’brien sought to convey about storytelling is how important the impact of character transformations through symbolism is. Throughout the novel, O’brien exposes multiple different personality and attitude changes that each carry an idea within each character. He shows the effect of American presumption on Mary Ann Bell, his loss of innocence after he killed a Vietnamese soldier for the very first time and a concluding story on his perception on life and death with storytelling through the character of Linda. Each of these characters embody a concept that was brought to them arbitrarily and the way they decide to deal with it changes their entire perception of life. Mary Ann Bell sees the world in a wider range, taking her curiosity as an advantage and deciding not to follow a stereotypical path that would have inevitably lead her to an unhappy existence. Tim O’brien has changed his perspective on life and death through Linda at first, and then the man he killed. All these transformations contribute to serve O’brien’s point on the impact of storytelling and how they create a certain meaning and idea. 

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