The Things They Carried Essay

9 September 2016

There were three types of women in The Things They Carried. These roles of women, displayed in Martha, Linda and Kathleen, were love, death, and an enabler. Although they are not seen in the story, women are very much on the mind of the men. Mainly because women could not be at war, O’Brien decided to introduce the women through the minds of the soldiers. The men idealize the women and portray their absence in letters, photographs and even in their imaginations.

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They do this as consolation and as a reminder that a world exists outside the monstrosity of Vietnam. Martha is Lt. Jimmy Cross’s love, even though she had only considered him as a friend. O’Brien’s uses their story to show a common trend between soldiers and the separation created by the war. When the soldiers returned home from the war, they quickly began trying to revitalize the lives they left before the war. While Lt. Jimmy Cross was faced with death in Vietnam, he refuses to believe Martha isn’t a virgin and that they could one day be together.

This was a safe, comforting thought contrary to one of rejection and possible death during war. For soldiers in war, many of them think of someone or something they love and it helps them to persevere through the tough times. “He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war”. (42) During his time in Vietnam, Cross is obsessed with Martha leading to Ted Lavender’s death.

He burns her letters and photos as an attempt to reconcile his guilt. However, it’s at that later meeting where he receives a new photograph of her and all the feelings of guilt is felt as she rejects him due to the fact that she was never truly interested in him. Another women who had left her mark was Linda, Tim O’Brien’s childhood “love”. Unfortunately she dies at the age of nine due to a brain tumor. Her role is to give Tim a reason to write stories, so that he can keep the memories alive. He believes that those who die can be revitalized through storytelling.

Linda is the primary example of O’Brien’s belief that storytelling aids the healing process of pain, confusion, and sadness that comes with an unexpected death. After she dies, O’Brien uses his writing skills to best create an everlasting memory in her honor. His past experiences with deaths such as Linda explains why he was able to handle death so well in Vietnam. Even though Norman Bowker and Kiowa die unexpectedly, they are both brought back to life in O’Brien’s stories similar to Linda. By writing stories like these, it helps O’Brien keep his sanity and peace in check.

In conclusion to the first two women, Kathleen is the daughter of O’Brien. She’s known as the enabler for O’Brien’s stories that “aren’t true”. Similar to the reader, Kathleen is learning O’Brien’s war stories and their true meanings. However, she has the means to question O’Brien and truly unlock his mind to find all the small details hidden in the words. An example of her ability is seen when he revisits Vietnam. O’Brien has a different perspective of his experiences when he thinks about how he should tell the story of the man he killed to his eight year old daughter.

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 that story”. (34) It’s easy for the reader to misunderstand O’Brien during his storytelling of the harshness of the war. Tim is trying to paint a picture for his daughter without scaring her out of her shoes. Otherwise he could just tell her all the horrors he witnessed as well as the gruesome smell that arose from the war field.

Although the women in The Things They Carried were not physically present during the war, they had a large emotional presence. This deeply affected almost all of the soldiers who were affected by the severity of the war and looked forward to returning home to a companion or family member. Most of the time women are said to play smaller roles in stories and in film, but not in the case of The Things They Carried. These leadings women were a big part of O’Brien’s success in explaining his story the way it was meant to be.

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