The Things They Carried


CP English 6-7


In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, the protagonist, Tim O’Brien is drafted into the Vietnam War. O’Brien, being young and naïve about the lifestyle of war, is scared and doesn’t know what to do. After battling with his conscience about fleeing the country and dodging the draft, O’Brien reluctantly decides to go to the Vietnam War because he doesn’t want his parents to think less of him. Throughout his time in the war O’Brien’s behavior suggests that the mental and physical effects of war can dramatically affect a man’s innocence and rapidly move him into maturity.

O’Brien was forced to experience death at an early age. This early turning point in his life would prepare him for the horror he would face in Vietnam. In the story “The Lives of the Dead,” O’Brien tells about his first real love, Linda. O’Brien and Linda were each nine years old. O’Brien’s love for Linda at such a young age suggests that he was mature beyond his years at only nine. At the same time however, his love for her was entirely innocent. Linda died of brain cancer at nine years old. O’Brien had lost not only a friend but a person whom he dearly loved. He dealt with it at first by attempting not to accept her death, but eventually he faces reality and sees her dead body for himself. Later, O’Brien would make up stories and make Linda come alive in his dreams. “She was nine years old. I loved her and then she died. And yet right here in the spell of memory and imagination I can still see her” (O’Brien 273). The influence of Linda’s death and O’Brien’s dreams of her being alive would both tie into what he did during the war and after the war. During the war Linda’s death would ready him for the death of Vietnam. His dreams of her being alive would act as a building block for the stories he would write as a means of coping with the death of friends in Vietnam.

O’Brien was innocent before he went to the Vietnam War; O’Brien deciding not to flee the country is his first step in going from innocence to maturity. He lived in a


small town and had no worries. In the story “On the Rainy River,” O’Brien receives his draft notice and starts driving towards Canada. O’Brien who was twenty-one years old at that time was terrified of the idea of leaving everything he had every known behind. On his way to Canada O’Brien stops at the Tip Top Lodge. This conveys that he is having second thoughts about going through with dodging the draft. At the Tip Top Lodge O’Brien meets Elroy, the owner, and spends the next week at the lodge with him. Throughout the week O’Brien considers what he is about to do. Although no mention is made about the draft dodging, Elroy knows what is on O’Brien’s mind. It is clear to Elroy that O’Brien doesn’t want to dodge the draft and he needs some guidance in making the decision. Then, Elroy decides to take O’Brien on the Rainy River. Elroy takes O’Brien close enough to Canada where he can either go or stay and face Vietnam. Elroy’s impression was correct. O’Brien decides to go to the war, reluctantly, admitting he is a coward. “Beyond all this, or at the very center, was the raw fact of terror. I did not want to die. Not ever. But certainly not then not there not in a wrong war” (O’Brien 47). O’Brien openly admits he does not want to fight a war he feels is wrong. Nevertheless, he does not want to disgrace his family or his country, so he dismisses his fear and heads home to prepare for Vietnam, thus beginning his journey from innocence to maturity.

During O’Brien’s first couple of days in the war he endeavors to hold on to his innocence while he witnesses the brutality and immorality of war. In the story “The Lives of the Dead,” O’Brien’s platoon enters a village they had just attacked. They find the body of a man who was just killed in the attack.