The Things They Carried Rhetorical Analysis
The Things They Carried Prompt: How do the symbols, imagery, and anecdotes in The Things They Carried help to contribute to the meaning of the text? The Things They Carried, written by Tim O’Brien, recounts the horrible experiences of soldiers at war in Vietnam. Throughout the novel, the author not only tells war stories, but tales about his own life, often referencing and dwelling on those who have made an impact on his life. He stresses the importance of these people and stories, often referring to them as “war stories” although many of these are not true.
They serve as an outlet for O’Brien, allowing him to let go of these horrible memories but also letting him keep the importance that they had on his life. These stories and messages are emphasized through the symbols displayed in the novel, the imagery used throughout, and the anecdotes that recount his memories. The symbols in The Things They Carried help to make the text more meaningful and further communicate the theme the novel displays. One of the symbols, the dead Vietnamese soldier, represents the horrors of war and what soldiers have to experience on the battlefield.
Although it was never completely clarified whether O’Brien did or did not kill the man, the guilt he relays through the text shows that he does not want to be in war, but it is expected of him to kill others since he is involved. He does so to prevent scorn from society upon his return. The author copes with the death of the Vietnamese soldier as he does with others throughout the novel; he fantasizes about what kind of person the soldier was, what he did before the war, and what he will do after.
He creates the soldier’s life in his mind, saying that “After his years at the university, the man I killed returned with his new wife to the village of My Khe, where he enlisted as a common rifleman with the 48th Vietcong Battalion” (O’Brien, 130). The man is a symbol of who the author hoped to be instead of who he was at war. The author himself was about to go to college, but was unable to do so in his life, so fabricated the soldier’s past to live out his dreams in a different manner.
Even though he did not know the man, he still feels and remembers the loss like the soldier had a significant impact on his life. O’Brien keeps those that have passed on alive in his memory, and this is one of the many continuous themes of the novel. The uses of imagery throughout the novel help to bring more meaning and importance to the theme the novel holds. In many of the important events in the novel, imagery is utilized to stress the significance of the event. When Kiowa dies in the novel, the use of imagery shows the importance of Kiowa to the entire troop, and how his death happened.
When describing his dead body, O’Brien includes the details that “A piece of his shoulder was missing; the arms and chest and face were cut up with shrapnel. He was covered with a bluish green mud” (O’Brien, 175). This description of Kiowa’s dead and decomposing body helps to bring the reader into the war itself, and what the author was feeling at this point in his life. Not only does this imagery convey to the reader the condition of the body, but it also communicates the reality of war and the effect it has on the people involved.
However, the author keeps Kiowa both alive through the text and in his memory, stating that a true war story is never completely true. This shows that although most of the novel is most likely fabricated and completely false, it still relates the general experience of the war and these experiences keep the war alive in the author’s memory. Many of the stories within The Things They Carried are short anecdotes, and they give examples of the war stories that O’Brien has both experienced and heard. These tales essentially make up the book, and thus are very important to the meaning of the novel.
The author often recounts his experiences with those who have passed on even though these stories seem to have no relevance to the text itself. For instance, he remembers his first experience with love and loss on meeting Linda when he was in elementary school. “When I write about her now, three decades later, it’s tempting to dismiss it as a crush, an infatuation of the childhood, but I know for a fact that what for each other was as deep and rich as love can ever get”(O’Brien, 228). This love he felt for Linda was true, and even similar to the love he felt for many of the men in his troop.
Even though O’Brien has not seen Linda or heard of her for three decades, she is immortalized within his memory, and as a result, he thinks about her often, as he does with other deceased characters in the book, such as Kurt Lemon and Kiowa. This memory of Linda shows that the book was not written only to recount his experience in the war, but to also remember those who have passed on through the text, and this shows that even when people die, they are never truly forgotten. The symbols, imagery, and anecdotes used throughout the text help to prove that no one single person is every truly gone from someone’s memory, and every memory has an mpact on one’s life. O’Brien uses symbolism to refer to the war at many points, and his memory of the man showed who he wished he was rather than what he really became. The symbolism used when describing Kiowa’s death shows the horror and reality of war, and well as the immortalization of people in the author’s memory. O’Brien’s anecdote involving Linda and his first experience with love shows this remembrance of the dead as well. This anecdote, along with others, brings more meaning to the story. These messages involved in the book help to bring more meaning and importance to the text, and help to leave an impact on the reader’s life.