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The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried

by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

Truth

For O'Brien, something isn't true unless it feels true. Whether or not it actually happened is beside the point; something can even have happened and not be true. While we feel betrayed when we r...

Literature and Writing

In The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien is telling us stories about war and love and peace and all that, but he's also telling us tales about a bunch of guys who sit around telling each other stori...

Warfare: The Vietnam War

O'Brien claims that The Things They Carried isn't about war, it's about peace, but let's face it: the book is mainly set in a war zone during the Vietnam War. Peace stands out in relief against th...

Guilt and Blame

All the characters in The Things They Carried are haunted by guilt and are looking for someone to blame. They feel guilty for the deaths of men in their platoons, for the deaths of the Vietnamese,...

Foreignness and 'the Other'

In war, soldiers must make the enemy an 'Other' in order to be able to kill them. In The Things They Carried, we see a lot of examples of the Vietnamese as the Other, but O'Brien twists the idea a...

Friendship

The theme is friendship, but we might as well call it "love" in The Things They Carried, because the love shared between soldiers turns out to be the strongest form of love in the book. Girlfriend...

Weakness

The soldiers in The Things They Carried talk a lot about courage, but mostly as an antidote to physical and moral weakness. Characters obsess about weakness. Not going to the war when drafted is se...

Respect and Reputation

The emphasis on respect and reputation in The Things They Carried is an inevitable byproduct of the focus on friendship and weakness. The soldiers fear and loathe weakness, so in order to keep the...
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