edited: Tuesday, December 18, 2007
By Ed Kline
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2007
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My Literary Arguement of: "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross knew his responsibility for his men. He knew that this responsibility should be his first priority. To cope with the war, he built up a new world with his love for Martha. In The Things They Carried Cross is unable to keep his commitment and allows his dreams of a love affair obscure his ability to lead. After Lavender’s death Cross is deeply affected and makes a change to lead and leave his love for Martha behind “…because she belonged to another world, which was not quite real.”(O’Brien 87)
Author Tim O’Brien was a soldier during the Vietnam conflict. He writes, in The Things They Carried, about the experience of war and how it affected soldiers. Soldiers were tasked to carry or “hump” (81) their equipment with them as they patrolled the jungle. O’Brien writes about their equipment in detail: guns, ammunition, jackets, and personal supplies. He includes the weight of most items producing a picture that represents the strength necessary to move so many things. He continues about specific equipment which must be carried depending on each soldier’s personal necessities, mission, rank, field specialty, and even superstition. These physical things imply “burdens far beyond the intransitive.” (81)
In addition, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carries the “…responsibility of his men.” (82) However, Cross is stricken with his love for Martha which compromises his ability to lead and protect his men. There are many examples that show that Cross does not take his assignment seriously, in one situation causing the death of a subordinate. At the end of the story “…Lieutenant Jimmy Cross reminded himself that his obligation was not to be loved but to lead.” (91) As an officer in the United States Army, this should be his only priority.
Cross carried letters from Martha which he took the time to carefully wrap. He would only touch them with the tips of his fingers to insure that they would not be tainted. While reading the letters Cross would pretend to be with her and “…taste the envelope flaps, knowing that her tongue had been there.”(80) O’Brian’s description of Martha in the two pictures carried by Cross provide great insight into the depth of his distraction during the war. Cross even dreams about his experiences with her and the opportunity he lost to make love to her. Cross read the letters before checking on his men, an indication that he was conflicted between what should be his primary responsibility and his love for Martha.
Cross received a good luck charm from Martha, a pebble that she carried in her breast pocket. This led Cross to believe that Martha was even more important to him than he originally thought. His daydreams became stronger as his infatuation continued. “He loved her so much. On the march … he carried the pebble in his mouth… His mind wandered. He had difficulty keeping his attention on the war.”(83) Cross would issue orders to his men then become entrenched in his day dreams about Martha. His “imagination was a killer” (84) to all of his men.
While his men were searching a tunnel, Cross thought about the possibility of a cave in, but he was day dreaming about Martha, taking his attention away from the operation at hand. “…without willing it, he was thinking of Martha” (84) Cross would try “…to concentrate on … the war, all the dangers, but this love was too much.”(84) Cross would put himself into Martha’s world in order to escape from the war. This would be a good coping method for a soldier at base camp, but in the field Cross should be completely attentive to his duties. While Lee Stunk was searching the tunnel Cross should have been alert instead of day dreaming. He became distracted and did not do his job. Cross had let his men down. He was not leading anyone.
“Lavender was dead, and he couldn’t burn the blame.”(90) Kiowa remarks that it was “like watching a rock fall, or a big sandbag or something-just boom, then down-not like the movies…” (82) Cross couldn’t control his anguish about the incident, he “hated himself” (87) but mostly Cross was crying for Martha not Lavender. “…she did not love him and never would.”(87) Cross realized that he was the only one making something out of his relationship with Martha. He knew that he would have to change his actions and begin dealing with the war, or maybe he would never have the opportunity to come home to her world.
“On the morning after Ted Lavender died, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross crouched at the bottom of his foxhole and burned Martha’s letters…the two photographs.”(90) Cross could not afford to continue his longing to be in Martha’s word. He was a soldier and carried responsibilities that needed his attention. “No more fantasies, he told himself.”(90)
Lavender was dead and Cross had to realize his mistake. He had become obsessed with Martha and did everything he could to push away his surroundings in an attempt to survive. Compared to his men it was natural for Cross to feel this way. But Cross was a First Lieutenant, and because of this role he could not afford to be distracted. Cross had no choice – he had to lead or carry “shameful memories” (89) forever.