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The Things They Carried is full of deep and powerful imagery, created by the author's personal experiences in the Vietnam War and the way that his heightened senses focused not on the larger issues at stake, but on the small, intimate things that made each soldier unique. Throughout the book, O'Brien described the details of the war at an individual level, focusing on the humans that fought and were affected instead of the War Effort and the socio-political aspects. From the very first page, the descriptive language is powerful, showing the terrible strain of the war contrasted with the simple "things" that the soldiers carried to give hope:
...not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic... after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending... more than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on the matter of love.
(O'Brien, The Things They Carried, Google Books)
It is easy to see Cross's fatigue, the filth and mud that he marched in, and the deep passion he felt at the touch of human contact that the letters represented. He "held them with the tips of his fingers" so as not to harm the words, always "washed his hands under a canteen" so the letters would not get dirty, and as the sun went down, he allowed his mind to leave the horrible war and travel in fantasy to a place where Martha, the letter-writer, felt as passionately as he did. The writing throughout is deceptively simple, but almost every line is composed for the greatest emotional impact.
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