Tim O’Brien’s book-The Things They Carried





Topic # 1: Tim O’Brien’s book-The Things They Carried


This book chronicles the author’s involvement in the Vietnam War and gives a detailed account of the events that took place there. It offers insights into the reasons for the US involvement in the war and exposes the opinions of various soldiers about them. In addition, it narrates the different strategies that were employed in the battle and reveals details of actual combat missions in various locations within Vietnam. More so, it highlights the sacrifices that the soldiers made and presents a true reflection of the actual military operations at that time. Therefore, The Things They Carried is a heroic adventure that captures real life experiences of Tim with occasional fictional descriptions of the Vietnam War.


The book starts with the reader being informed about the author receiving a draft notification from the US military. This section is to be found in on the Rainy River. This was a kind of notice of eligibility for enlisting in the army symbolizing Tim’s qualification for the assignment. As such, this government gesture signifies the calling to action that heroic journeys take. The contents of such notifications mean that the recipient contains certain abilities that can be used to bring security both domestically and internationally (Debono 48). This observation is significant because it sets the stage for the character’s role in the epic while preparing the reader psychologically on the context of the storyline. Furthermore, it serves as a notification of Tim’s potential in warfare.

Subsequently, one is introduced to a network of family members and friends who are opposed to his participation in the war. They view it as unnecessary and advise him to dishonor the call. Some even try to offer suggestions as to how risky the venture would be, especially when the enemies were so many (Thomas 1). Thus, this is one area where the novel ceases being heroic because the main character is dissuaded from taking the logical step into the next epic phase of the adventure. Normally, the guardians should be the ones urging him on and using encouraging remarks about the task such as it being patriotic and a source of pride in society. They would be eager to be associated with his feats since his triumph was to raise their bar by threatening the continuity of the plot. For a while, this makes the reader to be apprehensive about the outcome of the story and the suspense built contributes to the imagination of possible scenarios that the tale may follow.

However, it takes the familiar path of descent due to the character’s development of an opposing opinion to the war. He thinks that it is misguided and morally wrong. Similarly, he does not see the rationale behind the United States interest in the conflict and therefore, decides to run away from the challenge. He does so by packing his belongings and heading off to Canada. This cowardly act is meant to take him as further away from the draft as possible thereby testing his resolve to confront weighty matters. In fact he says,”…I was a coward…” (Debono 53). He faces a daunting task of reconciling his love for his country and his personal conviction about the war. As a result, he succumbs to the negative projections about the effort and demonstrates that by fleeing to a neighboring country. The fact that he is engrossed with the decision he has taken reminds the reader of the consequences of his actions and the dilemma that the story has been placed.

            While there, he sinks into an abyss due to the guilt that overcomes him. He wrestles with the fact that his departure had distanced him from his family, country and life. The thought of freedom in another nation is no longer appealing to him as it dawns on him that he has to forfeit his heritage and yet remain regretful of not honoring the draft notification. This is a typical stage in the build up of an adventure story in which the character is at a crossroad and has to choose a specific permanent direction. Thus, in this book, Tim agonizes over the mistake he has made to flee with the potential rewards he is bound to receive in case he goes back (Chen 83). It is a watershed moment that defines the momentum of the novel and makes the reader predict the character’s next move. In fact, it creates anxiety as the reader anticipates the character to make certain decisions rather quickly in order for the storyline to flow more easily.

At the shores of a lake in Canada, Tim concludes that he needs to return to the US, accept the draft in the army and fight for his country. He realizes that he has a role to play since he owes his family, country and himself the duty to correct his mistake. Hence, he does not hesitate and heads back to the US where he is enlisted and deployed to join his fellow citizens in the Vietnam War. This transformation is consistent with the design of heroic novels whereby the champion gains bravery and goes to face his/her enemies in an act of sacrifice for a specific cause. Sometimes, this decision is pegged on spirituality while others it is political. Nevertheless, in this instance, it is ideological. The reader is therefore, introduced to a bolder, focused and vengeful character compared to the timid one. As a result, the account takes the shape of protagonists by depicting opposing sides that put good against evil. The author then begins a battle of wits by examining the behavior and habits of both sides to justify the prevailing actions of the parties. The intention is to enable the reader to draw parallels and take sides, a technique that makes heroic journeys fascinating.

            Likewise, the information that is included in the various battles that Tim and his comrades are engaged in provide a changed image about the character that turns the tide in his favor. The reader is exposed to the cruelty of war and the horrific costs such as deaths. Tim is portrayed as a tactical and intelligent soldier who is committed to the elimination of the enemy. He too is shown to be caring about the welfare of his fellow soldiers as well. However, the effects of a drawn out war are also included and the impact that it has had on him too. This is yet another illustration of the heroic nature of The Things They Carried, as it features different battles that the main character enters and emerges victorious. Initially, the author talks about mundane fights but gradually delves into bigger and riskier ones that Tim is involved. Even though he gets some injuries, he manages to survive the ordeals that cost the lives of a few of his platoon members and gets recognition for it. In a way, this is a heroic feat considering that earlier on he had been reluctant to join the war effort (Bloom 13).

In the final chapters, the author dwells on the return of Tim to the United States specifically his home area. His family members and friends are delighted to see him in light of the high number of casualties that the Vietnam War had. He even tells them about his harrowing experiences and the evolving opinion about the war that he has had. As such, the book has an ending that befits a heroic journey since it includes excerpts where the main character returns to the community armed with a new understanding. This section acts as a bridge between the initial opinion and the current one thereby showing the transformation that he has undergone and feat he has been able to accomplish. Broadly, it makes the reader experience the redemption of the character and empathize with the struggles he has endured along the way.


Many books have been written over the years about the Vietnam War. However, few of them have been authored by a person who actually served and participated in the war. The above book is one such piece of literature, and it offers a compelling story about Tim’s third Platoon, Alpha Company, fifth Battalion involvement in the battlefield  since he says,”…everything I have told you is from personal experience” (Sirbelgleid 136). It is full of details and contains graphic information. Similarly, it is technically written in a style that traces the heroic journey he undergoes until his return to the United Sates.


Works Cited:

Bloom, Harold. Tim O’Brien’s the Things They Carried. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005. Print.

Chen, Tina. “Unraveling the deeper Meaning: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacements in Tim O’Brien’s The things They Carried.” STOR, 39.1 (1998): 77-98. Print.

Debono, Emily. “Lightening The Man’s Load.” American studies undergraduate Journal, 48-59. Print.

Sirbelgleid, Robin. “Making Things Present: Tim O’Brien’s Autobiographical Matafiction.” Project Muse, 50.1 (2009): 129-155. Print.

Thomas, Barden. “Urban Legends in Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried.” International Journal of Humanities, 22.1 (2010): 1-2. Print














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