Notes on The Things They Carried Themes

Tim O'Brien
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The Things They Carried Topic Tracking: Effects of War

Chapter 1

Effects of War 1: When Jimmy Cross understands that Ted Lavender is really dead, and that he might have prevented it, his whole outlook changes. Before, he couldn't get Martha out of his head. He was a daydreamer and a lover more than he was a soldier, and he thought often about that. But afterward, he understands that when someone dies, that can't be changed. It makes him realize his duty, and he is suddenly able to distance himself from everything that used to be important in his life. He understands that he is now living in another world, and that he is a soldier whether he wants to be or not.

Chapter 3

Effects of War 2: The lack of a purpose sometimes drives the men crazy. They feel that there is no definite morality to what they are doing. They become desperate for anything, even a game of checkers, that has a definite winner and loser. Their own wartime life seems endless, repetitive, boring and terrifyingly pointless.

Effects of War 3: Tim is unable to forget even the tiniest details from Vietnam. They play out in his memory and in his writing over and over, and he is helpless to contain them. Writing about the war is his link between the past and the future, he says. And the terrible and beautiful things he saw in Vietnam will be with him forever.

Chapter 5

Effects of War 4: Dave Jensen becomes unable to tell what is right and what is wrong. He has been fighting Vietnamese for so long that when he begins to fight with someone from his own side, he goes a little crazy. He thinks he has to make up for the way he hurt Lee Strunk, when even Strunk believes he had every right to hurt him.

Chapter 7

Effects of War 5: Rat Kiley cannot deal with the fact that his best friend is dead, so suddenly and without any reason behind it. He tries to explain how he feels to his friend's sister, and when she doesn't respond, he directs all his fury and hopelessness at her. He is nineteen, but war has made him vulgar, and a killer.

Chapter 9

Effects of War 6: Mary Anne Bell, who was only in Vietnam a few months, lost herself in the country. She became, as Rat Kiley described it, an animal. No one knows what happened to her, but she seemed to become part of the land itself. Rat cautions the others not to be surprised that this could happen to a woman: it could happen to anyone, he says.

Chapter 15

Effects of War 7: The war separates Norman from everything he wants to be close to. He knows no one in the town will understand his experiences, so he hardly talks to anyone. His thoughts are endless and repetitive, but he cannot get away from them. He spends a lot of time alone because he simply cannot seem to relate to anyone anymore.

Chapter 20

Effects of War 8: Though Tim is trying to spook Jorgenson, he gets spooked himself. Vietnam is a terrifying, savage, mysterious place, and he does not want to become it. He feels he is doing just that by scaring Jorgenson. When he sees Jorgenson terrified, he feels a connection to him. They both know what it's like to think you're about to die. But Tim is also terrified of the power he has over Jorgenson.

Chapter 21

Effects of War 9: Rat Kiley is literally driven crazy by the war. The entire country seems full of ghosts--every sound the men hear is haunted--and when they are travelling solely by night, they can hardly tell if their own bodies still exist. Rat cannot handle this. He sees visions of himself as dead. He views the other men as just so many anatomical parts. He loses his sense of reality.

Chapter 22

Effects of War 10: All the people Tim lost in the war have given him a new understanding of death. Since he has spent twenty years writing about them, he has slowly realized that they are not really dead: they are alive in his memory and imagination. He understands the pain of losing his friends, and the guilt of killing his enemy. But he also knows that his stories keep all of them alive.

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