The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried Weakness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Story Title.Paragraph)
They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. (The Things They Carried.77)
It's interesting that the soldiers' potential cowardice is a "common secret." It's something they all have, and that they know they all have, and that they know they all know that they have (lost yet?)—but they still don't talk about it. Their fear of weakness, be it physical or moral, is their "heaviest burden," and it's always on their minds.
I survived, but it's not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war. (On the Rainy River.79)
Usually you'd think that cowards run from the war, but O'Brien calls himself out for going in the first place. He let his shame and fear win out over his principles. For O'Brien, the strong thing to do would have been to run away from the war and bear the censure. Instead, he was weak.
"Oh, Jesus," he said, and moaned, and tried to slide away and said, "Jesus, man, don't kill me." (Enemies.2)
Strunk and Jensen initially had a big tough-guy pact that if one of them ever got a wheelchair wound, the other would put him out of his misery. But when Strunk does get a wheelchair wound, he chickens out. Whether or not this should be considered weakness on his part is up for debate, though. On the one hand, Strunk sounds kind of pathetic and weak—he's swearing and moaning and begging. On the other hand, of course he sounds pathetic and weak. His leg just got blown off! And maybe choosing to live with the disability is the choice that shows strength.