How Does O’Brien Use the Objects the Soldiers Carry in Order to Characterize the Soldiers in “The Things They Carried”

How Does O’Brien Use the Objects the Soldiers Carry in Order to Characterize the Soldiers in “The Things They Carried”
  • Page:
  • Words:
  • Downloads:
Disclaimer: This work has been donated by a student. This is not an example of the work produced by our Essay Writing Service.


In “The Things They Carried” by O’Brien, references are made to the Vietnam War whereby soldiers are considered to have suffered from physical, psychological and emotional burdens. Mostly, the story explains different things the soldiers carried and tries to explain the motives for holding on to the objects. The items are both tangible and intangible for instance, weapons, fear, and memories. This is achieved in the way the author shows reasons of how and why a soldier possessed items both individually and collectively and their direct and indirect association.

O’Brien uses the theme of carrying in his text resulting to a comprehensive criticism of this idea. In his text, he shows the different types of luggage’s men carried. These men are considered soldiers who happened to carry candy, cigarettes, and letters in addition to their weapons (OBrien 23). In most cases, soldiers are considered inhumane because of the training they underwent. However, O’Brien tries to show there humanity in the way they are careful in carrying the things they have from their loved ones, like letters. In addition to this, he shows that they are human in the way they struggle with their heavy luggage including food, weapons, gears, and other things (Colella 25).

In the beginning of the story, Lieutenant Cross carries a compass, a map, codebooks, and binoculars (OBrien 5). The items that he carries imply that Cross is a leader. It is essential to note that the soldiers are not only overwhelmed by the tangible baggage they hold but also emotional burden. For instance, Jimmy Cross thinks that he is the cause of Ted Lavender’s death due to the continued heavy carrying of Martha’s idea. Cross is in love with Martha and cannot help but think about her all the time. He even decides to burn his letters from Martha because he considers this attachment to them as the reason for his crush, but it does not help (Omein 45). This causes great harm to the soldiers he leads because he loses focus all the time as he spends loads of time staring at Martha’s pictures with the hope that she would love him back. Jim Cross can be described as a man in love due to the amount of time he spends thinking about Martha. Ted could not handle this idea and resorted to tranquilizers and marijuana hoping that they would calm him down. However, they caused more harm and this can be used to characterize the soldier’s humanity.

Henry Dobbins loving character can be explained by the way he constantly talks about his girlfriend and carries her pantyhose tied around his neckline (Voegelle 23). It is essential to realize he never left the pantyhose and whenever he did not have it around his neck; he had it in his stockings. The soldiers described in O’Brien’s story can be characterized as withstanding characters. Despite having a lot of luggage to carry both physically and emotionally, they still hang on to there duties and tried to improve on every ground. They carried weapons, grief, terror, love, and longing but still remained firm.


O’Brien use of objects to characterize the soldiers in his text can be considered to be more effective than use of direct characterization. This is because these items help one follow the story and acquire complete understanding of the different characters. In addition, the objects single out different characters from a wide range of soldiers.

Works cited
Colella, Jill. The Things They Carried . Washington D.C: Cliffs Notes, 2000. Print.
OBrien, Tim. The Things They Carried . New York: Mariner Books, 2009. Print.
Omein, Sparks. The Things They Carried. New York: Study Guide edition, 2002. Print.
Voegelle, Jason. “The things they carried.” Thoughts (2010): Pp. 23-24. Print.