Symbolism in "The Things They Carried" Essay

1104 Words5 Pages
A. Park

The Things They Carried

The symbols in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” are essential to understanding the soldiers and their lives during the Vietnam War. At the opening of the story, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross would dig into his foxhole and read the letters while imagining romance with Martha; however, at the end of the story after the death of Ted Lavender, he “crouched at the bottom of his foxhole and burned Martha’s letters” (402). The inner feelings of Cross would be mistakenly ignored without the help of symbols throughout his travel through Vietnam. O’Brien uses the emotional and physical weight carried by the soldiers as a representation of their personalities and how they prefer to cope with the war. The
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He had touched these items day by day, wondering who had been beside her while she had retrieved the pebble from the beach, or who placed the shadow in the photo of her. His mind would race day and night, making it difficult for him to provide adequate attention on the war. Cross “would yell at his men to spread out the column, to keep their eyes open, but then he would slip away into daydreams, just pretending, walking barefoot along the Jersey shore; with Martha, carrying nothing” (396). Cross would hope for nothing more than to be carrying nothing. These physical objects weighed him down terribly after the death of Ted Lavender. He had loved Martha much more than his men, and due to his overpowering love he had lost one of them. The pebble was not only a symbol of importance to Cross as he dealt with the trauma of war, but as the physical weight he carried due to the death of his man. These physical symbols helped to identify a shift in the story when Cross decides to open up and make a change to the way he is coping with the war after Lavender’s death. This “wouldn’t help Lavender, he knew that, but from this point on he would comport himself as an officer” (403).
Another symbol O’Brien used in the story was the superstitious items carried by the soldiers which helped them to cope with the trauma of the war. Dave Jensen carried a rabbit’s foot for good luck to protect him from the
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