short story discovery: The Things They Carried


About Tim O'Brien:

He received the 1979 National Book Award in fiction for Going After Cacciato. His other works include the acclaimed novels The Things They Carried and July, July. In the Lake of the Woods received the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians and was named the best novel of 1994 by Time.

O'Brien lives in Austin, Texas.

By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.
I’d come to this war a quiet, thoughtful sort of person, a college grad, Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, all the credentials, but after seven months in the bush I realized that those high, civilized trappings had somehow been crushed under the weight of the simple daily realities. I’d turned mean inside.

In The Things They Carried it's a short story about the individuals in a military company and the items they valued in a time of uncertain life. In the most physical sense, the things are mosquito repellent, pocket knives, and chewing gum. Though they also show the physical characteristics of each character such as Henry Dobbins carrying extra rations because he is exceptionally large and the personal, little quirks such as Kiowa carrying an illustrated New Testament, a gift from his father, because he is religious and he loves his father. 

Some things the men carry are universal like a compress for fatal injuries, a tent, and a poncho that can be used as a raincoat, but the most important is that they carry the weight of home's memory and the literal weight of one another. They carry Vietnam, its heavy weather and dusty soil, the question if they're going to make it out, and the burden of death and responsibility of each other's lives. 

It's a wonderfully insightful short story to human life and its complexities--the things we love, the things we miss, and the things we let go--and it takes no longer than twenty minutes to read! 

Zoe TribleyComment