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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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For "The Things They Carried," list the things the men carried as they moved through the Vietnamese country side.

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Here is a list from the first chapter:  mosquito repellent, marijuana, pocket knives, chewing gum, a girlfriend’s pantyhose, marijuana, tranquilizers, the New Testament, a compress in case of fatal injuries, a two-pound poncho that can be used as a raincoat, groundsheet, or tent, a standard M-16 assault rifle and several magazines of ammunition, grenade launchers, compasses, morphine.The listing of these material objects is done in order to humanize these men.  They are like the rest of us, they have objects of sentimental value and of necessity.  They are men with personalities and responsibilities.In addition, this list highlights the greater weight they all carry, the weight of their position, the weight of Vietnam.  It is with them as they go, and it haunts them.   
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The things the soldiers carry are far too many to list here.  It might work better to categorize the things the men carry.  For instance, the men carry personal items from home (letters and pictures), items of personal necessity (toot brushes, pocket knives, Kool Aid, and desserts), items belonging to soldiers (machine guns, boots, helmets, flack jackets), items based on rank and expertise (Henry Dobbins was a large man so he carried a larger weapon and Rat Kiley was the medic so he carried morphine), items that varied based on their missions (machetes and bug juice), items based on superstition (a Bible, a sling shot, dope). 

In addition to these, O'Brien observes they also carry themselves, ghosts, the land itself, emotional baggage, and - the heaviest burdens of all - the memories of the fear they experienced and the things they did.

The second link below takes you to an excellent critical source that analyzes the physical and mental burden the war has on the men.

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What things did the soldiers carry as they moved through Vietnam in "The Things They Carried"?

The important thing to realise about this excellent war-time short story is the way that characters are defined by what they carry. Clearly, apart from the army regulation equipment that they have to carry, every item is the result of a choice that the soldiers have had to make bearing in mind the lack of space that they have and the added weight it will involve. Thus the objects that are personal to them are hugely significant in terms of what is important to them and how they define themselves. Note what the text tells us about this process of carrying, or "humping":

To carry something was to hump it, as when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps. In its intransitive form, to hump mean to walk, or to march, but it implied burdens far beyond the intransitive.

Thus each object also signifies a sort of psychological burden as well as a physical one, and you would do well to bear that in mind when you consider the importance of the objects each soldier carried.

Jimmy Cross thus carried his letters from Martha. Henry Dobbins carried extra rations. Dave Jensen carried a toothbrush, dental floss and soap and extra socks and foot powder. Ted Lavender carried tranquilizers and dope. Mitchell Sanders carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa carried an illustrated New Testament and a hunting hatchet. We are also told that nearly all of them carried photographs.

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