Even as the fragmented rays conjure up a literary VIGBYOR in Tim O’Brien’s novel, ‘The Things They Carried’, certain questions find their way to the minds of the readers, like, whether it was really necessary to put in more complexity by naming the protagonist as Tim O’Brien to achieve semblance with the real-life trauma out of Vietnam war. O’Brien seldom missed any chance to heighten the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in the novel, which is seen as a desperate attempt to hammer his intended message to the heads of the readers.
However, all these have helped this novel to go beyond the mould of a typical ‘Coming of Age Novel’. This essay thus probes these and more within the literary framework to arrive at a conclusion. Theme The title of the novel itself is capable of evoking the guiding engine of the story: It points at “Things” (tangible and intangible, physical and mental burden), which “They” (the American soldiers), “Carried” (which would be their lifelong companion). This quick summation of a novel in its title helps readers to guess the essence of its theme as well: “The overall of trauma of a war is unshakable from the lives of its participants.
” This theme obviously is based on a larger canvas where it demands attention of all the major supplemental elements to it – like all shades of emotion in appropriate blend, and the events that were to be responsible to generate those shades. Considering the application of these elements in the novel, one can say that Tim O’Brien has successfully stretched the events through such broad canvas (1955-1975), with appropriate mixture of the shades of emotion like grief, desperation, love or longing, save the terror and trauma, which overcast the entire journey of the novel.
Apart from that, O’Brien also justifies the existence of trauma even after a gap on 20 years with appropriate events, e. g. , when Jimmy Cross opens his heart to O’Brien by claiming his responsibility for Ted Lavender’s death, and cites his momentary craving for his long-lost love – this type of paradox actually adds momentum in a novel and O’Brien has been able to successfully create that momentum off and on, through which, a background music of doom is established.
That continuous, haunting tune of sorrow successfully as if keeps its theme clear in every page of the book – that a war is only a waste for everyone involved in it, dead or alive. Plot Beginning a novel in the middle to rouse the reader’s interest as to what had happened before and what would happen after is a proven technique for years, but it commands adept handling as there is always the fear to leave some loose threads here and there.
But O’Brien successfully escapes that by producing the book in a ‘loose leaf’ mould, where even if a loose thread remains in any leaf, that would conform to the theme rather than going against it. This also reminds one about a coming of age novel rather than a well-formulated plot. However, the premise of the story, or for that matter, the content itself being autobiographical in nature, one cannot ascertain about induction of any plot in its strictest term and identifies the gravity of its theme as the determiner of the events.
In all, one can only discover a vague shadow of the Famous Jarvis’ mould of three-act formula or the ‘Hero’s Journey’ Pattern, in this otherwise open-plotted novel. Characterization Though O’Brien gathers his characters together in “Spin”, he goes on building them all throughout the story, which somewhat resembles with a ‘coming of age’ novel presented in the kaleidoscopic flashback. O’Brien introduces his protagonist in the mould of a young, confused O’Brien himself, who would later be the narrator of that high-voltage trauma of war and its permanent after-effect.
This type of presentation always runs the risk to be monotonous, as the readers might not want to see the protagonist as omnipresent in every situation; but O’Brien again scores here by splitting the tale into separate stories, which automatically serves the desired transition from one series of event to the other. The real antagonist of this novel is war; and thus it is also omnipresent and defeats the protagonist with its impact, all for the sake of serving a cautionary note to the humans about the magnitude of the catastrophe a war can bring of to them.
O’Brien sketches Jimmy Cross as another misfit soldier in the war, though his magnanimous attitude and acts ultimately justify his place in the novel, which actually provides more contrast to the cruel backdrop of war. However, there is a distinct difference between the portrayal of O’Brien and Cross, as the former was all along directionless, while the later reflects some purpose in his actions. Between these two, Mitchell Sanders plays the cameo with his acts but at the same time displaying his sense of justice, a vital element to create or settle a conflict – e. g.
, when he refuses to be in aid of O’Brien against Bobby Jorgenson. While the war novels are enlivened by such characters with distinct behavior and attitude, the regular, archetypal ones like Kiowa contributes to it by producing tragic events, which would continue to haunt the readers as the logo of war and made that character larger than life. Induction of right characters has definitely produced the right effect in O’Brien’s novel, including the auxiliary characters like Bowker or Linda, who ultimately rise above their otherwise average status through their extraordinary deaths.
Setting The vignettes of “Spin” also establish the setting of the novel with vivid details of the scene and action, but what earns kudos for O’Brien is his placement of allusions in it, like when he describes, “A field of elephant grass weighted with wind, bowing under the stir of a helicopter’s blades, the grass dark and servile, bending low, but then rising straight again when the chopper went away. ” (O’Brien 40). He takes just this little space to describe the entire situation there, citing the grass as the Vietcong.
Otherwise, he encompasses a gamut of elements ranging from ringworm to pantyhose to sketch his scenes, let alone describing the ‘Bouncing Betties’ or the other horrific war elements. May be it’s for the sake of setting, or just to avoid anachronism, O’Brien incorporates ‘How to tell a true war story”, which to many, might symbolize ‘Historicism’, much like in ‘Song Tra Bong’. With these, setting of this novel has risen to a rank from where it looks multidimensional and interwoven with symbols or allusions.
Symbols While the dead Vietnamese soldier with a star-shaped hole in his eye serves as one of the symbols that would haunt O’Brien lifelong about his assumed guilt, the incorporation of military terms may not be seen as symbols, yet they pose as such with apt application, as the readers find them in ‘M&M’. While M&M is capable of representing comfort to the dying soldiers, ‘yo-yo’, a metaphor, evokes the long-lost simplicity of childhood or the happy-go-lucky time.
Both echo the psyche of the American soldiers in Vietnam. The ‘Savior Motif’ is generally a common component in a novel, and O’Brien subtly imbibes that in Jimmy Cross – his name, his reflections, his attitude or actions – all are embedded with this motif. However, all symbols, motifs or metaphors are pointed towards one single direction – and that is, to make PTSD recurring off and on and strike at various levels of perception of the readers.