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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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In "The Things They Carried," how do soldiers cope with the constant threat of death?

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In Tim O'Brien's short story entitled, "The Things They Carried," it is the things they carry with them and the things they do that help distract them from being overwhelmed by the threat and reality of death.

Some of the things the men carried were required for each soldier. But there were other things too. There were love letters (or almost-love letters). Bibles were carried and photographs.

One man carried his girlfriend's pantyhose around his neck for comfort. Another carried tranquilizers. Among the group there was a rabbit's foot, chess sets, Vietnamese dictionaries, basketballs.

Lt. Jimmy Cross carries a "good luck" pebble Martha sent him. He carried it in his mouth as he marched, tasting the water on the beach from where it had come, and his mind was on her more than what he was doing as they passed through the jungle.

They men talked, told jokes and made random conversation. When they lost one of their men, some had to talk about it, while others refused to. Different people cope in different ways. Some would daydream about a place or person. It was hard being there and wishing to be somewhere else. They did the best they could...and starting marching again.

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Some of it is game playing, the idea that it can happen to anyone else but you.  The soldiers do this by carrying good luck charms and assigning inordinate value to them and their power to stop the inevitable.  They joke about it, death is just something to laugh about even when it is close.  Much of the time they bottle it up and don't talk about it, even when it is someone close to them.  They add layers to the sense of invincibility that every young man has because they carry weapons, because they are soldiers and they are supposed to be tough.

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