The Things They Carried by Tim O'brien

1426 Words6 Pages
The War at Home The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, transports the reader into the minds of veterans of the Vietnam conflict. The Vietnam War dramatically changed Tim O’Brien and his comrades, making their return home a turbulent and difficult transition. The study, titled, The War at Home: Effects of Vietnam-Era Military Service on Post-War Household Stability, uses the draft lottery as a “natural experiment” on the general male population. The purpose of the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) study is to determine the psychological effects of the Vietnam War on its veterans. In order to do this, they tested four conditions, marital stability, residential stability, housing tenure, and extended family living. However, it…show more content…
Norman, a strong guy, could not save him not for lack of strength, but instead because of complete chaos around him, and “the worst part […] the smell” (O’Brien, 139). After the firefight was over, guilt set into Norman that would never leave. He blamed himself for Kiowa’s death, and it riddled him with self-doubt. After the war, he is completely unable to tell anyone about the incident, and the medal he should’ve won, “he wished he could have explained some of this. How he had been braver than he ever thought possible, but how he had not been so brave as he wanted to be” (O’Brien, 126). His feeling of inadequacy is based on this singular incident, and is something unable to be represented in the NBER study. After the war, Norman lived in the same town he has always lived in, yet he felt like a stranger: “the town could not, and would not listen. […] It had no memory, therefore no guilt” (O’Brien, 137). Norman feels alienated from society, wracked with guilt for a situation beyond his control, he finds his only solace is in the taking of his life. Tim O’Brien uses the suicide of Norman Bawker to represent the extremes of post-war trauma of veterans as a whole. Norman is a stand-in for every soldier who comes home from the war feeling as if he could have done more. Norman’s home town, a sleepy town in middle America with, “stone patios with barbecue spits and grills, and wooden shingles” (O’Brien, 131) represents America as a whole and its uncertainty of how to
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