Life in a Warzone Reading the short story “The Things they carried,” by Tim O Brien, creates a mesmerizing image of a war zone. It describes the tough war times for American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. The story is a literary portrayal of the material and mental pressures on the soldiers, who strive to survive physically and mentally in the war. “The things they carried” talks about how heavily equipped are American Soldiers, and how a group of them carried numerous tools and weapons as war materials. It presents the environment of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and fellow soldiers.
They used to be loaded with survival goods and weapons all the time during Vietnam War. They carried all possible equipments such as toothbrushes, lighters, chewing gum, food rations, and personal bibles to M-16s, mine detectors, and more or less sophisticated weapons and ammunition. They carried tremendous weights of various massively heavy and calculably light resources. Lieutenant Cross and his associates were also aware of the burden of weight they carried as mentioned in paragraph 12 “They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of things they carried. Behind the fascinating description of the equipment the soldiers carried in Vietnam. There is tough exchange of emotional energies around Lieutenant Cross and his soldiers. The war atmosphere is devastating, and soldiers are going through a torment living up to it. Troops get tired physically and mentally fighting in the dirty war setting. Explained in paragraph 39 “They carried lice and ringworm…They carried the land itself-Vietnam, the place, the soil-a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boot, their fatigues and faces,” portrays that the soldiers would get tired and dirty because of the extremely tough surroundings.
Furthermore, this statement also signifies some pain that the soldiers felt while they did their job. The soldiers had strong negative effects on their minds in the course of war, and to ease these effects soldiers would have spiritual or emotional attachments to different iconic things. These things could be Bibles, comic books, condoms, personal diaries or their own thoughts. Soldiers also carried weight on their minds, and especially Lieutenant Cross, as he was the leader of his battalion and responsible for the lives of his men. Among Lieutenant Cross’s crew was a soldier, Ted Lavender.
Ted Lavender, like all soldiers, was a survivor in the harsh circumstances of warfare. His emotional balance was maintained by dope. He carried six or seven ounces of dope till he died, as explained in paragraph 2 that the dope “was a necessity for him. ” This line is from the second paragraph and it shows Ted Lavender’s dependence on dope. Ted Lavender’s drug dependence had bad effects on his mind and also on his crew. The line “But Ted Lavender who was scared, carried thirty-four rounds,” paragraph 11, tells about Lavender got paranoid, and carried extra burden of ammunition on the day he got shot.
Moreover, after his death, ex-associates who carried his body were smoking his dope. This tells that Ted Lavender’s drug habits had significant influence on other soldiers. Along with this, reading about how Lieutenant Cross’s juniors would joke and talk to each other also gives a surety that Ted Lavender’s drug addiction definitely had a negative influence on the troops. As all the soldiers mentioned in the story were part of a single battalion. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’s spiritual connection was with a girl named Martha.
She was a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. Lieutenant Cross would think about Martha in his tough times and go into ease with his vivid imaginations of Martha. In his mindset Jimmy Cross loved Martha. Jimmy Cross would also carry a couple of letters from Martha as a spiritual symbol of love. Although “Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha,” paragraph 3, they were not lovers. Jimmy Cross would think frequently about Martha as it would take Jimmy into a fantasy world. These thoughts would ease his mind and gradually increases his love for Martha.
With time passing, thoughts about Martha became more significant in Jimmy Cross’s mind and his feelings also escalated. Jimmy Cross would also imagine sexual experiences with Martha such as in paragraph 5, Cross imagines to have touched her “left knee. ” Martha became a remedy, a cure, or a spiritualized gorgeous being for Jimmy Cross in the distressing environment of war. The crisp in Jimmy Cross’s imagination came in this story when Jimmy receives a pebble from Martha, as a good luck charm, before Lavender’s death. The pebble for Jimmy became like a materialized spiritual object.
It reflected all the love that Jimmy had for Martha. Paragraph 39 “he carried the pebble in his mouth, turning it with his tongue, tasting the sea salts and moisture. His mind wandered. He had difficulty keeping his attention on the war. ” These lines give evidence that the pebble had gained immense substance in the life of Jimmy Cross. It was actually that he had started worshipping the pebble. It was like that everything else in Cross’s life was gloomy and evil. And the pebble was like an icon of peace in Jimmy Cross’s life.
As he couldn’t get his mind on his job, Jimmy Cross was going towards some idol worship with the pebble behind his conscious brain. Right at Ted Lavender’s death Jimmy Cross was way ahead in thoughts of Martha with the pebble in his mouth. He was fantasizing the pebble to be Martha’s tongue. He could not think about the war or his duties, “he felt paralyzed” with Martha’s feelings. Lavender’s death was a shock to Jimmy Cross. Jimmy Cross blamed himself as he was the man in charge of his group. The night of Lavender’s death Jimmy Cross cried with mixed emotions of guilt for Lavender’s death and love for Martha.
The morning after that Jimmy Cross burnt all Martha’s letters and pictures. These materials were iconic images which represented Martha in Cross’s life. It meant as Jimmy Cross had broken some idols which he used to worship. Though then he still thought that destroying the materials was “stupid,” he did change as a person. He became more responsible with his duties, and strict with his sub-ordinates. He would keep his crew away from drugs and became more steadfast. Destroying Martha’s letters and pictures for Jimmy Cross was like breaking a spiritual bond from her.
He was trying to find his mental presence in the physical world in which he had some obligations. For Jimmy Cross thoughts about Martha kept his mind at peace. But after Ted Lavenders death, Jimmy found that peace in being a responsible soldier. Ted Lavenders physical demise in the world had broken Lieutenant Cross’s spiritual connections with fantasies of Martha. It woke up Jimmy Cross from his illusions. He now kept his mental composure by being mentally present in his current situation and by dealing with his issues of the war.
Moreover, Jimmy’s mental satisfaction was achieved on doing his duty as a Lieutenant and not by fantasizing about Martha. Generally, life in a warzone is tough physically and mentally. Soldiers go through a culture shock and as well as live in harsh physical conditions. During a course of war there are intense experiences which have impacts on soldiers. Jimmy Cross in the story has gone through a similar experience which has transformed him into a stronger person. As after every crisis makes a person stronger.