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 suicide cannot face his memories and chooses to die. The only other person whose life we hear about after the war is the narrator. In a way, he too has yet to overcome the war and the pain it brought. He says that the reason he keeps writing these books about the war is because he feels that by writing stories about his friends, both living and dead, he is able to preserve them, alive and young. One main theme in this book is about truth. The narrator discusses two types of truth. The first he calls the happening-truth. The happening truth is what really happened. The example he uses is that he was a soldier who saw many dead bodies and had the opportunity to kill a man. The other type of truth is the story-truth. This is not what really happened, but it is told to give the event shape and to make the reader feel the way the author felt. The story-truth is that the narrator killed an individual on his first day in the war, fresh from the university and with a new bride. These two examples each make the reader feel differently. The second story brings out much more emotion, and therefore brings the reader closer to the truth. In this case, the truth is that the loss of each life is tragic, whether comrade or enemy. The adversity of war is that it makes the soldiers less human because they are encouraged to forget this truth. Another main theme is stories. The narrator says he writes stories to keep his memories alive. He says that the stories help him to remember people the way he wants to remember them. The stories also help the men in Vietnam get through the war. By telling outrageous stories about other men’s courage, practical jokes, or stupidity, they feel safer and more powerful. Some men tell stories about their friends who have died to help keep their memories alive, too. Rat tells a story about Curt going out trick-or-treating one Halloween in Vietnam. The narrator says that when Rat told this story, the listener would have no idea that pieces of Curt had been taken down from a tree earlier that year. As O’Brien writes: “True war stories do not generalize” (84) and “True war stories are never moral” (76). Stories helped keep the men sane because they helped them express the detail and pain of the events of the war. The Things They Carried tells how each man suffered through some form of adversity or inhumanity in the War in Vietnam. Three of the men did not make it through this ordeal. The others were changed forever by what they had witnessed and by what they had lost. The book tells stories about each man in the narrator’s platoon. These stories are told to help the narrator make sense of the war and to keep his memories alive. As O’Brien writes, he is: “Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story” (40). As O’Brien also writes, each story may or may not be true depending on what type of truth the reader is looking for. Some men lived through the war by luck ;others stayed sane or dealt with the loss of friends by telling stories about them. Some men did not make it, and their deaths made some men stronger. Each character was affected in some way by the war, and they must always carry with them the pain of the Vietnam War. if u use this e-mail me to let me know what u think of it: jimmybob3@juno.com

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