In his story “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien uses the association of physical things with emotional and mental states to show how different men experienced military service in the Vietnam War. One of the aspects he emphasizes is the soldiers’ mutual reliance on each other’s actions even for physical survival. The items are associated with the heavy “emotional baggage of men who might die.”
Some of the physical things that they carry are supplies and equipment that are connected with survival and long-term endurance of hardships. These are “largely determined by necessity,” including water and mundane items like can openers. Another example is the 23-pound M-60 machine gun that Henry Dobbins carries. This powerful weapon may save not only his own life, but that of his fellow soldiers. They depend on Dobbins not only for his physical strength in carrying this necessary equipment, but they also trust that he can unload and deploy it efficiently when the need arises.
An important personal memento is the photograph of his girlfriend that Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carries. It reminds him of his emotional attachments back home, which helps motivate him to carry on with his duties. However, when he begins to feel that he failed his men, he destroys the photo so as not to be distracted by thoughts of home. A physical thing attached to his faith is the New Testament that Kiowa carries.