Throughout The Things They Carried, author Tim O’Brien explores many facets of courage. The novel’s narrator reveals both the thoughts and actions of the servicemen in the unit as they carry out their wartime duties. The narrator also explores his own motivations and shortcomings before he joined up. While the men are on patrol in Vietnam, courage emerges as a necessary quality for conducting even the smallest task on a daily basis. As their mere presence puts them in danger, just being there requires courage.
One important dimension of courage is assuming responsibility not only for their own lives but for those of their comrades. This element is shown in the change of attitude by Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. After Ted Lavender is killed, the lieutenant broadens his definition of courage to encompass his responsibility as an officer. In this early example, O’Brien shows courage as a burden that all the men share but that could weigh more heavily on officers: courage is one of the “things” they carry.
A contrasting example is shown by the narrator’s discussion of how he came to join the army, which, for a while, he had not intended to do. He reveals that he strongly considered resisting the war and leaving the United States to avoid the draft. After spending time reflecting on what his life would be like as a resister, he decided that he lacked the courage to live that way.