Monday, March 26, 2012

The weight of Feelings

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The Weight of Feelings


In The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien describes the world of the grunt. The story starts out with a fairly technical list of military equipment, rattling out weights of guns and ammunition. The descriptions give us a sense of the weight a soldier bears to war. However, as the story progresses O’Brien begins to draw attention to the weightless burdens of the soldiers. The soldiers have on their backs and shoulders memories from home, of love, or in LT Cross’s case, the lack of love. They carried Vietnam itself, the air, the smells, the dirt, even the sky around them weighed down on their minds. In the end, we see that what weighs the grunt down is not the 0 clips of 7.6 ammunition, or the 0 pound radio, but the burdens that cannot be measured on a scale. The most painful of these burdens, we are told, were the fears, feelings of cowardice, embarrassment, and terror. As O’Brien describes it, the reason these young men went to war was not because they wanted to fight or be heroes, but because their fear of being cowards. The emotional burdens carried by the soldier in Vietnam outweighed the physical ones, but it was the also the emotional burdens that pushed the men forward along their pointless marches through the jungle.


What holds the men back the most is the fear of being seen as a coward. They made themselves tough, at least on the outside. They laughed at the ones that could not hide their fear, the ones that had shot themselves to escape Vietnam, even though in the back of their heads they were envious of the ones that flew away free. During firefights they would all lose the fa├žade of composure, praying for their lives, but afterwards they would make themselves rise again. They felt ashamed of themselves but could not show it. They made themselves act normally, make jokes about the dead, and laugh it all off. But on the inside they all felt the same thing, the feeling of fear, and the immense burden of being alive in Vietnam. As O’Brien puts it, “They were afraid to die, but even more afraid of showing it.”


The burden of love is what weighs down Lieutenant Jimmy Cross the most. He loved Martha so much that it hurt him. What hurt him the most was that he knew that she did not love him back He because lost in his mixed thoughts of love, lust, and jealousy. He wanted so much for her to be his, that he became paranoid about her. For this reason, Jimmy Cross inadvertently allowed the death of Ted Lavender. He blamed himself for it, feeling the guilt of being allowing himself to be blinded by his love. He burned the pictures of Martha, but realized that it was merely superficial, and did not change his thoughts about her. He hated her for loving her, and felt guilty about losing his sense of responsibility for his men over a girl. He forced himself to throw away love, and enforce strict field regulations; to forget his feelings, in order to save his men.


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The experiences of had by the men of A company shows that when they went of to war, they took with them not only guns and ammunition, but all their feelings of fear, love and loss. The feelings they carry with them are the things that make them fighters. Half the time, the actual equipment for military use is thrown away, or even if used, doesn’t serve its purpose well, such as the mine detector. The fact that they have no physical purpose for being in Vietnam except for the fear of failure and embarrassment, and the arsenal of America cannot prevent Ted Lavender from getting shot while taking a piss shows the true futility of the entire war.





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