Monday, January 7, 2013

The Things They Carried

In the novel “The Things They Carried,” the idea of weight is used and developed by first explaining the physical and literal burden that the soldiers carry, followed by insinuating the mental and emotional weight that is ever-present. On page 2 it says, “The things they carried were largely determined by necessity.” The author then proceeds to list off an array of items and their weight in pounds. Some of the items include pocket knives, rations, photographs, and bug repellent. Some items were required to be carried, while others were brought along because of a soldier’s specific wants or needs. The effect of carrying these things as a soldier is obvious; it would be harsh and tiring, but it’s also just a fact of life when in war. Everyone else has things to carry too, so you suck it up and keep walking.  The effect of the weight carried from a reader’s standpoint is mentally exhausting. As more items are listed, though you cannot feel them, it’s easy to understand the pressure of every extra pound. 

On page 7 it says, “…they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive.” The soldiers carried weapons such as M-16s, AK-47s, RPGs and Uzis. Kiowa is easily remembered for carrying a hatchet, and Mitchell Sanders for brass knuckles. They carried these things to protect themselves and their comrades. When faced with the enemy, they wanted to be able to be able to kill, so that they would survive. But with carrying deadly weapons comes with the acceptance that you may be a killer, that you might end someone else’s life. Because of that acceptance the soldiers carry the burden of sin of killing others, grief of fallen friends, and terror at the loss of their own lives. On page 21 it says “They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die.” As a reader we can’t understand what it’s like to be faced with the mortality of war. Describing the weight of deadly weapons is supposed to allow you to think of the reasons why they needed to be carried.

The last idea of weight has no way to be measured. You can’t put it on a scale and state how many pounds it is. You can’t complain about its physical burden. On page 22 it says, “By and large they carried these things inside, maintaining the masks of composure.” The men could rarely describe how much the war affected them, how terrified they really were or how much they wanted to go home. The coping mechanism used was to act tough and do your job until it was over. Those who were weak weren’t liked, they didn’t get medals, and they weren’t heroes. On page 22 is says, “Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards.” As a reader, this last idea of weight allows us to understand that the soldiers’ toils in war weren’t solely based on physical dilemmas. The emotional burdens could be equally if not more heavy on them.   

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