The Things They Carried: Short Summary
The Things They Carried is a reflection on the experiences of foot soldiers in Vietnam underwent during and after the war. This story is a representation of the writer’s memoir, a war autobiography, as well as other fictional short stories. Tim O’Brien instantly blurs the line between fact and fiction through dedicating the novel to individuals whom he later on discovers are the novel’s fictional characters. To further complicate the novel’s genre, O’Brien creates a protagonist named Tim O’Brien who is a Vietnam veteran.
Summary of the Story
A platoon comprising 17 American soldiers is marching along the Vietnamese swamps and hills filled with booby traps. They are under orders to undertake night patrols, set ambushes and search and destroy the huge tunnel complexes built by the Guerrillas. Most Americans are emotionally unprepared for the stresses of war. This story does not follow the traditional linear plot but only offers fragments of the experience, including a somewhat unending listing of personal effects and gear carried by the soldiers.
Key among the men is Jimmy Cross, the first Lieutenant. He is the oldest at 24 years of age and a recent college graduate. He is love-smitten for a girl back at home. He constantly carries two photographs of this girl wherever he goes.
On the 16th of April, the men deliberate on who shall wire a Vietnamese Cong tunnel with explosives. They select one soldier to undertake the task. Just as he was about to finish, one of the soldiers named Ted Lavender who had gone to relieve himself gets killed by an enemy sniper. This incident shocks the entire group.
He was the most fearful and cautious in the team and always carried tranquilizers as well as top-grade marijuana to calm his terror. All these did nothing to help him. The same night Kiowa tries to meditate about lavender’s death and to make sense of it. However, he feels nothing.
Cross, on the other hand, is very sorrowful. He blames himself for the death of lavender. However, in truth, he is not to blame. The guilt is because he was thinking about Martha the moment lavender got shot.
He then realizes that his obsession with Martha is a mere dream. He proceeds to burn all her photos and letters in his foxhole as he surrenders his illusions and resolves to conduct himself as a leader. He decides to be tough, strong and silent.