Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried illustrates the impact of war experiences on the values and attitudes of soldiers. It is possible to identify several ways in which these people change. In particular, these characters reject their some of their ideals and stereotypes such as the fear of showing weakness or willingness to become leaders.
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More importantly, many of these people are affected by the sense of guilt and horrors of war. They want to find ways of living through these painful events. These are the main issues that should be discussed in this paper. Furthermore, the characters described by Tim O’Brien become disillusioned with themselves as well as other people. This is the main argument that can be made.
At first, it is important to look at the experience of the first-person narrator, Tim O’Brien. It should be noted that this person decided to join the army because he did not want to be viewed as a coward (O’Brien 20). He is ashamed of evading the conscription since in his opinion, this behavior is completely unacceptable for a young man. The following quote illustrate his perception of war, “They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing”( O’Brien 20).
This is one of the main issues that should be considered because it throws light on the motives that drive the actions of the narrator. However, the war in Vietnam changes this person. He is strongly affected by the sense of guilt, especially after killing a man with a grenade. He tries to imagine what kind of life his victim had. He cannot distance himself from the tragedy and this experience is very traumatic. This event prompted him to re-evaluate many of his ideals and attitudes, especially the belief in the nobility of war.
To a great extent, writing helps to reconcile himself with the memories of violence. This example is important because it shows that war is inevitable associated with guilt. The narrator of these short stories is no longer an ambitious young man who does not want to display any sign of weakness. More likely, he is an emotionally-crippled person who attempts to restore his identity. This is one of the aspects that can be identified.
Additionally, one should look at such a character Jimmy Cross whose worldview is profoundly affected by this war. One can say that he takes responsibility that he cannot handle.
In particular, he becomes the leader of the platoon, and in this way he tries to demonstrate his best qualities. It should be taken into account that he joins the army only because many of his friends do so. So, his behavior can be partly attributed to peer pressure, but he does not see the irrationality of this decision. Furthermore, he is afraid of showing the signs of weakness or cowardice.
However, the war shatters many of his illusions. In particular, he learns that he is completely unaccustomed to the situations when a person has to accept the death of other people. This experience produces a destructive impact on Jimmy. Like Tim O’Brien, Jimmy is also overwhelmed by guilt which virtually haunts him. In particular, he accuses himself of Ted Lavender’s death. He believes that Ted’s death was caused by his negligence and lack of competence.
Each death of a soldier on his platoon convinces him that leadership and courage are hardly possible without accepting responsibility for one’s decisions. This character tries to “ burn the blame” but he fails to do it (O’Brien 22). Overall, this character is important because he turns into a disillusioned adult who no longer wants to be a leader. One should bear in mind that these experience are familiar to many soldiers lived through the war in Vietnam.
Certainly, there are some exceptions that should not be overlooked. For example, such a character as Mitchell Sanders is also affected by war, but his worldview is not transformed dramatically. It should be noted that he does not have any illusions about war, and he is completely aware of its atrocity and senselessness.
This is one of the traits that differs him from other characters described by the author. Apart from that, he has the sense of humor which enables him to live through the experiences of war. For example, he is able to mock those people who attempted to justify the war in Vietnam. Certainly, this person does not want to prove that he is a better soldier than others. Additionally, this war intensifies his sense of justice because he sees the deaths of many soldiers. This is why he is able to cope with the painful experiences of war.
On the whole, these examples are important because they show that war cannot leave people unchanged. One of its main impacts is the disillusionment of people who are forced to see the cruelty of war. As it has been said before, many of these characters want to be perceived as courageous people, but they eventually become disappointed because they are overwhelmed by the feeling of guilt and horror of witnessing death. Thus, it is possible to argue that war prompts people to reassess many of their ideals.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried, Boston: Mariner Books, 2009. Print.