The Things They Carried

Physical and Psychological Burdens

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is a highly unique work, a compilation of many stories carried home by veterans of the Vietnam War. The length of the stories in the 22 chapters varies dramatically, a technique that "demonstrates well the impossibility of knowing reality of the war in absolute terms" (Calloway 1). The reader - like the soldier - never knows how the day will turn out. O'Brien even adds stories whose veracity is challenged later on, thus allowing the reader to understand that the stories are not the most important thing. Stories are used only to provide insight into the emotions of war; from these stories, O'Brien effectively teases out the psychological burdens carried by Vietnam veterans. Initially the soldiers, new to the field of course, carry personal effects, physical burdens, that serve as a reminder of the friendly reality of home while in a hostile and foreign place; however, as the soldiers stay in "Nam" longer, these physical burdens are replaced by psychological burdens that alter the perspective of reality for returning soldiers. "Home" becomes an alien place, serving as a constant reminder of Vietnam and its horrors.

In Chapter One, O'Brien...

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