Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried: Symbolism Essay

The Things They Brought by Tim O’Brien is a hybrid text of the personal experiences and the intense imagination of the author. It has to do with the Vietnam War and the effects on the mind, body, and soul not simply of guys but as a nation as a whole. O’Brien composing depends upon the use of signs to strongly depict what the war was like and the after impacts. O’Brien uses symbolism in the form of content, structure, and characters to create a vibrant piece of memorable and heart wrenching text.

The title of this story “The Things They Carried” is a sign of the sneaky travel of the Vietnamese soldiers which carried a rifle and rice throughout the Vietnam War. This contrasts noticeably with the tools, weapons, and individual things that were brought by American soldiers. The story is deals with the beginning of the Vietnam War, the process of war, and the re-adjustment of soldiers back into American society.

O’Brien aggressively applies his belief that authors typically should use “lies” and “half realities” to communicate the genuine reality to their audience.

The content of the story has lots of literary distortion. This literary distortion is a sign of the Vietnam War, and the issues which faced Americans throughout this time while purposely omitting a lot of the political concerns which breathed life into Vietnam crisis (Wesley). It is just through the distortion of the occasions that the real experience can be communicated.

A crucial part in O’Brien having the ability to represent the occasions and emotion of the Vietnam War is his intentional blurring of fact and fiction. “The Important Things They Carried” is subtitled as “a work of fiction” and offers the following disclaimer “all the events, names, and characters are fictional.” The deliberate blurring of truth with fiction is utilized by O’Brien to signify the fragmented and unbelievable experiences of the Vietnam War.

O’Brien utilizes numerous characters as symbols. The character Linda is a sign of the past. This is a constant tip of how things utilized to be. Linda is a school buddy of O’Brien’s. She passed away from cancer and O’Brien’s very first genuine girl buddy. It is not simply a mistake that his first love is also his very first experience with loss. It is through her love and death the O’Brien finds convenience in stories and day dreaming which direct the plot throughout this story. Similarly, Kathleen is also a symbol.

She is the child of the storyteller and she represents the present and more importantly the future. O’Brien makes choice based upon what is best for her. She is effected by his stories of the war. She is his audience just as his readers are. In “The Male I Killed” O’Brien talks about how the young soldier which he eliminated. This dead soldier signifies the pain and guilt that is felt over war. O’Brien recounts the physical look of the soldier’s body– torn open, wounded, bleeding, and dead. Simply as the soldier’s wound never recovered, the parallel can be made that neither will the world (Jarraway 667).

O’Brien utilizes content, structure, and characters to represent the mindset of American soldiers along with the cumulative American awareness. The aesthetic worth of O’Brien unorthodox technique is unmistakable but in focusing on the design he disregards the essential reasons the war took place in the first location. As well as America’s function in the damage of nation and it’s individuals. The Vietnam War is steeped in excellent debate and misconception. It is only through the sharing of reality war stories integrated with precise historic and political reporting that the fact and the real experience of the Vietnam War can be known.


O’Brien, Tim (1998 ). The Things They Brought. New York City, NY: Broadway.

Jarraway, David R. “Excremental Attack” in Tim O’Brien: Trauma and Recovery in Vietnam War Literature MFS Modern Fiction Studies– Volume 44, Number 3, Fall 1998, pp. 695-711 Wesley, Marilyn.”Reality and Fiction in Tim O’Brien’s If I Pass away in a Combat Zone and The Things They Brought.”Spring 2002: 1-18.

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