How does symbolism and savior motif supports the themes of power of language and effect of war on soldiers and nature of courage?explain about saviour motif precisely and how it is linked to...

How does symbolism and savior motif supports the themes of power of language and effect of war on soldiers and nature of courage?

explain about saviour motif precisely and how it is linked to religious connotation

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first story, "The Things They Carried," Jimmy Cross, whose name is symbolic of Jesus Christ's martyrdom on Golgotha, attempts to take upon the guilt of Ted Lavender's death.  Though he does not sacrifice himself the way Christ did--by turning himself over to his enemies and dying for the sins of others--Cross does weep and entrench himself in his foxhole...

"because he loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead.’’  His guilt ‘‘is something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war.''

Later, he will feel even more guilty after Kiowa's death, as he leads his men into a literal shithole.  In the post-war story "Love," Cross tells O'Brien "not to mention anything about---."  And O'Brien says he won't--a clear indication of their inability to express guilt in language and the communication problems of veterans.

So, the guilt Cross feels over his men's deaths, or the atrocities he witnesses, or his relationship with Martha, is more important that the confessions Cross or O'Brien are willing to make in the stories.  Therefore, war subverts the religious practice of confession and absolution.  War-torn veterans Cross and O'Brien, in effect, take on their own sins rather than revealing them to civilian readers.  Fiction is not a prayer for forgiveness.  The power of religious language, either verbal confession or written gospel, has no power to absolve these men, even 20 years later.

Later, in "Church," Dobbins and Kiowa also reveal the paradoxical nature of war, religion, and language as they seek refuge in a Vietnamese pagoda where a monk cleans their machine guns.  The monk calls Dobbins "Good Soldier Jesus," an allusion to the story of Pilate washing his hands of Christ before the crucifixion.  Kiowa, who carries a New Testament with him and whose grandfather has taught him to hate the white man, says he could never be a preacher.  Realizing the paradoxical nature of his presence (a soldier in a church), he washes his hands, gives the monk some chocolate, and peaches, and says that all the soldiers can do is be nice to the Vietnamese.  So, the Christian message of "love thy neighbor" is all one can do to absolve the guilt and cruelty of war.  Needless to say, the religious is again subverted--as both men more or less wash their hands of the war's effect on themselves and the Vietnamese civilians.  Again, language cannot reconcile the moral problem of war; a simple exchange of gifts is as, or more, powerful.

O'Brien's goal in his fiction is to preserve memory, even if means subverting the truth (a kind of sin--as it is a "lie").  O'Brien's stories though are much like acts of faith; he wants his stories to be believed with the "stomach" instead of the mind.  Many religious works operate in this manner: their miracles and paradoxes cannot be logically explained and rationalized.  O'Brien believes the "lives of the dead" (especiallly Linda, Kiowa, and the man he killed) are better told 20 years later (like the New Testament Gospels), after the author's have had time to play around with the truth, tell and re-tell the stories until they have gotten the stomach to believe.

Read the study guide:
The Things They Carried

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