What is symbolic about the things they carried as individuals in "The Things They Carried"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The group of soldiers that is presented to us in this brilliant short story carries many things, and the majority of these objects are determined by "necessity." However, at the same time, the story also lists a number of other objects that various individuals chose to carry in addition to the equipment that they had to carry as a platoon of soldiers. Each of these objects says a lot about the person carrying that object:

Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake. Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-sized bars of soap he'd stolen on R&R in Sydney, Australia. Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April... Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity.

Thus we can see that the extra things that Ted Lavender carried were indicative of his stressed character and personality. Dave Jensen's extra belongings were indicative of his role, and Henry Dobbins of course carried extra food because of his stature. Most interesting however are love letters carried by Jimmy Cross and the way that he obsesses over them, hoping that this friendship will develop into something more. Also, note the two extra belongings that Kiowa carried:

Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a hedge against bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother's distrust of the white man, his grandfather's old hunting hatchet.

Kiowa thus hedges his bets by taking a symbol of his faith but also another symbol of his more violent background in the form of his grandfather's hatchet. The extra belongings that the soldiers thus choose to carry are very richly symbolic and cast light on these characters and their attitude to war, life and their situation.

 

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