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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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What does each character carry in The Things They Carried?

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In The Things They Carried, the soldiers carry personal objects, often with symbolic significance, along with their heavy military kit. The personal objects are used by the author to reveal the personalities and priorities of the characters.

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In "The Things They Carried," the first story in the collection of the same title, Tim O'Brien talks about the objects literally carried by his fellow soldiers in Vietnam, their metaphorical emotional baggage, and the connection between the two. He begins with Jimmy Cross, who carries letters from...

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a girl he loves along with the knowledge that she views him only as a friend. Later, Cross also carries his guilt over the death of Ted Lavender, one of the men under his command. Ted Lavender himself had carried drugs to calm his nerves.

Henry Dobbins, one of the calmer, more stable soldiers, fond of his creature comforts, carries extra rations, such as canned peaches and pound cake. Dave Jensen, who is obsessed with hygiene in an environment where it is difficult to remain clean, carries a toothbrush, dental floss, soap, foot powder, and extra pairs of socks. He also carries a rabbit's foot for good luck. Kiowa, who is devoutly religious, carries a copy of the New Testament which his father gave him, as well as an extra weapon, a hunting hatchet. Rat Kiley carries comic books; Norman Bowker, a diary; and Mitchell Sanders, condoms.

All the soldiers carry these small personal items in addition to their heavy, standard-issue military kit. This kit includes a steel helmet, jungle boots, standard-issue jacket and trousers, a heavy flak jacket, a large bandage, and a poncho for wet weather. Other common items include pocket knives, chewing gum, cigarettes, rations, and canteens. Each soldier also carries equipment specific to his position, such as Rat Kiley's medical gear and Mitchell Sanders's radio equipment. The story emphasizes that these enormous loads, exacerbated by long treks and challenging weather, are symbolic of the emotional burdens of life during war.

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