In “The Things They Carried” how do the soldiers cope with being at war?In “The Things They Carried” how do the soldiers cope with being at war?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This incredible story of soldiers in the Vietnam War make clear the role that escapism and fantasy plays in helping individual soldiers, many of them incredibly young, to cope with the bleak reality of their war-time existence. This theme of fantasy is established from the very beginning of the story, as we are introduced to Jimmy Cross and how the letters from Martha play such an important role in his life in Vietnam. Note what we are told about them:

They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, 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. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there.

Clearly, the propensity to dream and to indulge in flights of fantasy are an important coping strategy for Jimmy Cross, as the imagined relationship that he can have with Martha clearly helps him to escape from the grim realities of war and the danger and responsibility he has to face.

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The Things They Carried

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