The Man He Killed and The Things They Carried: the Horrific Reality of the War

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The draft. It brought many men into a war that they did not understand. It brought them across the Pacific Ocean to a small country in a civil war. This country was Vietnam. The Things They Carried is a fictional book based in Vietnam during the war. It shows us the true side of a war that was not understood by any of its fighters. The destruction of men, women, children, towns, and souls. All wrapped into a book about U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. The book has many themes throughout its epic story. The theme that overtakes the rest happens to be the saddest, the most expected, and yet the most ignored. The theme of The Things They Carried is death. It is seen immediately in the beginning. It’s seen throughout the book all the way up to the final few pages.

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First, the theme of death doesn’t mean someone dying, It can be how the soldiers feel that they have to cope with death. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross doesn’t handle Ted Lavender’s death very well. He spends his night crying alone in a fox hole, blaming himself for Ted’s death. His soldiers notice him carrying the weight of his death “The Lieutenant’s in some deep hurt. I mean that crying jag – the way he was carrying on – it wasn’t fake or anything, it was real-heavy duty hurt.” The quote is on page 17. The reason emphasis is added to this is to show you just how early on in this book death is seen, and dealt with. Ted Lavender was a beloved man in the squad and when he died, it was the first of many voids for them.

Along with the destruction they see everyday, they see their friends die. Tim O’Brien finds it harder and harder to care for the ones that die that he never knew. His men are definitely affected, but Tim just doesn’t react how you’d expect. “When Curt Lemon was killed, I found it hard to mourn. I knew him only slightly, and what I did know was not impressive” He admits that he was a brave soldier. He says how some of his stunts were just plain crazy. Later on Tim O’Brien has to experience his first kill. The chapter is called The Man I Killed. He describes in great detail how the man looked after he shot him. He knows that what he just did he can never take back. He can never tell the man he killed that it was just instinct. That he never wanted to do it. He humanizes the man he killed, it might be to keep his humanity. After all most of the men when they kill someone they just move on but not Tim. His platoon congratulates him and he just doesn’t want it. They make a point that Tim was thinking all along. “You want to trade places with him?” 120 That’s all Tim was thinking about, what if it had been him.

After the war ends, we learn of what happened to some of the characters. We learn of what happens to Norman Bowker, which I believe is the saddest part in this book. In Speaking Of Courage it shows how Norman dealt with the death of Kiowa. He watched him sink into the mud in what the called the “Shit Field” 140 He never gets over the death of Kiowa, he tries to talk to someone but he feels alone. He feels as if he has no one to talk to, not even his own family. He reads Tim’s book and writes him a letter saying how he loved the book but it’s an 11 page letter that goes all over the place in emotions. It goes from happiness, to consolidation, to anger, and back to sadness. Tim writes in a chapter about Kiowa for Norman. He leaves out the detail that Norman really wanted and it disappoints him. Eventually Norman goes into the locker room to get a drink during basketball and he hangs himself. It’s a sad fact of war and shows us how death can follow a soldier years and years after a war. “Eight months later he hanged himself” 154 This sentence here is what will affect me after reading it for a long time, It’s known that many kill themselves after war. It is just an awful part of life that many people hide away from.

Finally we get to a part of the book that shows just how early Tim himself was forced to deal with the death of someone close. The entire book we learn about the many dead men, women, and children that they saw. We feel what they felt, and we imagine what they saw. There is death, all throughout, and in the end (or the beginning because he was young) we learn of Tim’s first love. A little girl who wore a lovely red cap all the time. She was bullied for it and she just ignored it. She eventually has the cap taken off and it becomes apparent to us why she wore the cap. She had cancer and was going to die soon. Tim didn’t understand this because he was young. After the school year end and summer begins he just wants to see her. The school year starts backs up and the kid who bullied her tells Tim that she died. That the tumor finally got to her. “She died, of course. Nine years old and she died. It was a brain tumor. She lived through the summer and into the first part of September, and then she was dead.” Tim leaves school early and goes home. He copes with her death by imagining her in his dreams. He then goes on to say how in Vietnam they had ways of coping with death.

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