Symbolism in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried Essays

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Written by author Tim O’Brien after his own experience in Vietnam, “The Things They Carried” is a short story that introduces the reader to the experiences of soldiers away at war. O’Brien uses potent metaphors with a third person narrator to shape each character. In doing so, the reader is able to sympathize with the internal and external struggles the men endure. These symbolic comparisons often give even the smallest details great literary weight, due to their dual meanings. The symbolism in “The Things They Carried” guides the reader through the complex development of characters by establishing their humanity during the inhumane circumstance of war, articulating what the men need for emotional and spiritual survival, and by revealing …show more content…

By mentioning common and familiar items such as gum, candy, and Kool-Aid, the characters become more than soldiers carrying ammo. It is easier for the reader to relate to the everyday accessible items. Despite being war heroes, as people often assume soldiers are, such symbols allow them appear as unique individuals with evolving personalities. O’Brien continues his allegorical index of items in the soldier’s inventory, which establishes the emotional and spiritual needs each soldier has for survival. Rat Kiley, the unit’s medic carried comic books and M&M’s which O’Brien describes as things necessary for a medic to carry. The passage that reads “Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M's for especially bad wounds” (O'Brien 339-340), is a perfect example of such symbolism. The reader knows that comic books and chocolate candies have little to no medicinal value, but because they are carried with Kiley’s medical supplies required for survival, they are of import to Kiley’s emotional survival. Having no practical physical application, he uses the items as an emotional distraction or a coping mechanism. Beyond the emotional needs of the men, the reader is met with Kiowa’s spiritual need. Introduced early on in the text, O’Brien writes

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