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One of the most powerful examples of the individual vs. the collective in these gripping short stories comes from the first short story, "The Things They Carried," which explores how Lieutenant Jimmy Cross comes to destroy the dreams and the fantasies he has that help to get him through each passing day of active service in Vietnam. Because he was daydreaming and looking at his photo of Martha, a friend of his back home, when Lavender was shot, Jimmy Cross is deeply ashamed of his daydreams and feels that they are a luxury he can indulge in no longer. Note what he decides to do:
Henceforth, when he thought about Martha, it would be only to think that she belonged elsewhere. He would shut down the daydreams. This was not Mount Sebastian, it was another world, where there were no pretty poems or midterm exams, a place where men died because of carelessness and gross stupidity.
Jimmy Cross has to sacrifice his own individual needs and desires for the good of the men he leads, and mistakenly comes to the conclusion that the only way he can be a good leader of his men is to burn his picture of Martha, and his hopes and dreams of being with her, so that he is not distracted by "fantasies." This view of course ignores the powerful role that fantasies have in helping people in desperate situations to continue struggling against the forces of bleak reality.
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