The stories that O'Brien relates are all held together by the various themes that run through all of them. One that has been pointed out earlier is that of guilt and shame. So many of the stories demonstrate actions that are taken because of guilt and shame rather than any desire to be brave or any desire to take positive action. So much of the literature of war focused in some ways on an idea of glory, btu here O'Brien demonstrates what many historians and psychologists have found which is that men in combat act not out of a desire to be brave but a desire not to be seen as weak, out of shame. So many actions are also prompted by guilt, at feeling responsible for someone's death, etc., and these themes help to tie together much of what O'Brien has written about.
One does not need to read the stories in the order in which they appear in the novel since the book is unified by the common bond shared by the soldiers. O'Brien cleverly writes a novel that makes you question war stories and their affect on the soldiers. Although we see these men in many fragments throughout the novel, they are united by their common feelings or fear, guilt, shame, and desire to survive. O'Brien, at times, speaks directly to the audience, making us a part of this unified group of characters by questioning and feeling the emotions and weight of the baggage they all carry.
War is often depicted as brutal, action-packed, bloody, and a simple win or lose. In the novel, O' Brien has readers look beyond the Hollywood label and see the real essence of war: men ashamed of killing, men trying to be brave and not weak, keeping emotions off the battlefield, the difficulties of death and going back to civilian life, how strongly war changes people. Since each character has their own story to tell, it is not really about the stories told but the emotions we gain from them. So, overall this novel provides a more humble and realistic depiction of a controversial time in American history.
"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien might be considered by some as little more than a catalogue of military and personal effects. In fact, however, the story is unified by the platoon’s typical actions, the threat of death as focused on Lavender, and the concerns and feelings of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. The unnamed narrator also furnishes constant understanding of the men and sympathy for the burdens of their wartime tasks. This makes the story much more relistic with a theme that things can be more burdensome than physical property.