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“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien Summary


Lieutenant Cross is a young amorous soldier (22 years old) who is busy thinking and daydreaming about his girlfriend, Martha at the battlefield in Vietnam. He is so much absorbed by their time spent together at college and obsessed by Martha that he is seeing her in his memory. He reminisces the good times they had together and sees her gray eyes. He misses her so much until he gets paralyzed by love. As Lieutenant Cross gets carried away by these wild thoughts he momentarily forgets all about security issues together with other soldiers and they start making jokes. It is at this time, that they are rudely interrupted when one of them, Ted Lavender, is shot by a sniper. This awakens Lieutenant Cross from his reverie and he springs to action, to be a man of duty and action, and promises himself that he would perform his duties firmly and without negligence. He vows to conduct himself as the soldier he is, and impose strict field discipline on the march. He would this time round be more careful to send out flank security to avoid straggling or bunching up, to make sure that his men move at the proper pace and interval. He would insist on clean weapons and confiscate what was left of Lavender’s dope. Lieutenant Cross thus vows to be a man about the whole thing and tell his comrades to their faces. He would leave no room for discussions, distance himself from the rest of the soldiers and assume his role as a leader. Lieutenant Cross thus would not tolerate any more laxity in his troops.

It is this effort of Cross to detach and control that is the drama and technique of this story. It is our impulse as humans to deal with situations beyond our control with horror and sadness by fashioning some order, a story to clarify and contain our emotions. The American soldiers, at the waterfront in Vietnam, thus carried all they could bear and then some including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried at the battlefield.

Work cited
Tom, OBrien. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990.

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