What is the point of the persistent repetition of the words "the things they carried"?

2 Answers

jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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O'Brien uses repetition of the words "the things they carried" in part to visit and revisit episodes such as Ted Lavender's death. Rather than present Lavender's death in a straightforward, chronological narrative, O'Brien scatters details about his death throughout the story "The Things They Carried."

For example, the first time Lavender is mentioned, O'Brien writes about him: "Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April." O'Brien later writes that Lavender carried dope, 20 pounds of ammunition, and a poncho that is used to wrap him up and carry him after he is shot. He is then carried aboard a chopper. Even after this point in the story, O'Brien continues to add details about what Lavender carried, such as a starlight scope. The other soldiers continue to talk about what Lavender carried, including his supply of tranquilizers, even after Lavender's death. The repetition of what Lavender carried, sprinkled throughout the narrative, means that the story of his death is told in a fragmented way. This is the way that the other men in Vietnam might have experienced his death. It was so sudden and so jolting that it can only be recalled in short bursts of memory. By using repetition and the scattering of short details, O'Brien tells of Lavender's death the way the other soldiers might have experienced it.

dbrooks22's profile pic

dbrooks22 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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O'Brien uses the repetition of these words to create an unmistakable realization that the men are always carrying “things,” whether it is a physical weight or an emotional weight. The repetitiveness of the words lets the reader, in a sense, feel how the soldiers feel. The soldiers are unable to forget the weight of the “things they carry,” and by repeating the words, the reader is not able to forget the weight either. The sense of annoyance that the reader may feel by the constant repeating of the words is a technique used by O’Brien to connect the reader to the characters. The soldiers may also feel frustrated that they do not get a reprieve from the constant burden of their weights.