In Tim O Brien s The Things They Carried detailed description and realism were used to capture the audience and draw them into the actual events in the story, allowing them to feel the burden of emotional and physical weight on the characters, who were fighting to preserve their sanity and lives. The vivid detail and realistic narration were only tools used by the author to prepare a story that goes beyond the war in Vietnam, focusing on the other things that soldiers carried – inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
The story was brought to life by the realistic but disjointed narration of the author, illustrated by returning to the death of Ted Lavender throughout the story. Someone who had actually experienced similar events could only write the story with such detail. The repetitive narration describing the accumulation of things they carried eventually had meaning. This was the way their lives had become, step by step, ounce by ounce. The repetition reached a climax when the author revealed the heaviest of all the things they carried, They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die (paragraph 77).
The main characters in the story were First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and Martha, a college student who wrote to him. The story flowed from beginning to end, characterizing the changes in Jimmy Cross as he dealt with his emotions as well as the responsibility to the men in his platoon. In the beginning of the story he was depicted as a boyish leader with dreams of Martha being his escape from the senseless reality of the war. When one of his men was killed he accepted the responsibility and guilt, which changed him into the leader he thought he should have been forgetting Martha and protecting his men.
This plot linked together all the actions and events that happened in the story. Tim O Brien used third-person point of view to tell the story. The omniscient angle of vision enabled him to reveal the thoughts and actions of all the characters. He graphically illustrated this when describing the freedom birds they dreamed about, taking them away while on guard at night (paragraph 81). There were many similar examples throughout the story. The main idea of the story was well defined by literary critic Joanne McCarthy when she wrote, Pranksters must become killers, dreamers must become realists or someone dies (McCarthy par. ).
The soldiers in the story were barely into manhood and faced the reality of death every day. They would have to kill, or be killed. Their dreams gave them a way of escape from the war, but they had to live in the real world to survive. The Things They Carried contained all the elements of a work of fiction to justify calling it a story. There was special emphasis on detailed description and realistic narration a result of the author s own experiences. It was a story about the human spirit under extreme psychological pressure at an age when life was just beginning, and how each soldier dealt with the circumstances.