Truth, Memories, and Adversity in Vietna Essay

Truth Memories And Adversity In Vietna Essay

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Sam Rosenberg 5/27/98 20-1 Adversity, Truth, and Memories from Vietnam The Things They Carried, written by Tim O’Brien and published in 1990, is the most recent book about the Vietnam War O’Brien has written. This book discusses the lives and deaths of a platoon of soldiers in Vietnam and also the narrator’s life before and after the war. Every character in this book has to overcome some form of inhumanity or adversity caused mainly by the Vietnam War. Each character grows from, learns a lesson from, or at least survives this inhumanity or adversity. The lesson they learn is that the stories they tell about themselves and each other help them survive pain, in particular the pain and losses caused by the Vietnam War, by allowing each person to give the pain a shape. The narrator of this book is one of the characters in it. He is not the main character. This book has no main character, but is mostly stories about the soldiers in a platoon in the Vietnam War, including the narrator. Many of the stories, however, are what a member of the platoon heard from someone outside the platoon, about someone outside the platoon. Each story they hear about someone makes the teller more three dimensional by giving him a past as well as a present, and hopefully, a future. Knowing or imagining the past for each person, even an enemy, makes his loss tragic. The narrator realizes this when he creates a story for the enemy soldier he killed: “He had been a soldier for only a single day…He knew he would die quickly. He knew he would see a flash of light. He knew he would fall dead and wake up in the stories of his village and people” (144). Each member of the platoon has his own distinct characteristics, and it is this detail that helps the reader believe that each of the characters could have really existed, and this belief makes their struggles much more personal and painful. For example, the lieutenant’s name is Jimmy Cross. At the start of the book, he is mentally a young boy who did not really want to be appointed lieutenant. When one of his men is killed, partly because of his carelessness, he accepts his responsibility, grows up fast and becomes a good leader. Kiowa is the son of a preacher and always carries a bible around with him. All the men really like him and each blames himself for his death later in the book. The medic for the platoon is Rat Kiley. He is a respected medic, and the men trust his competence to fix them up if they are wounded. When his friend Curt Lemon steps on a land mine while playing catch with Rat, Rat suffers a huge emotional loss. The morale of the platoon drops when Rat is injured and sent to Japan. The man who hangs himself after the war is Mitchell Sanders, the RTO (person who carried the radio). The man whose death causes Lt. Cross to grow up is Ted Lavender. Ted always carried tranquilizers and dope with him. As a result, he described the war as “mellow, man. We got ourselves a nice mellow war today” (36). He is shot in the head outside Than Khe. It is this detail which makes the reader feel for the characters. The main instigator of every adversity in this book is the Vietnam War. None of these men would have gone through what they did if there was no war. Two men in the platoon died during the war and one committed suicide after the war ended. The other men in the platoon had to deal with the death of their friends, and the fact that they were in a strange country with strangers they had been ordered to kill. The two men that died during the war and the one who hung himself after the war were unable to overcome this adversity. The men who died in the war had no choice, but the man who commits
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