The Things They Carried

The Soldier's Burden: Masculinity in The Things They Carried 11th Grade

Most, if not all of them, were drafted unwillingly. They were asked to leave their families and their homes, their girls or their kids, and they were told to die and kill for reasons unclear. These soldiers marched through swamps and villages with mutilated children and, even after the first time they killed someone or their best friends died, they were told not to cry about it. This is what Tim O’Brien tells us in The Things They Carried, a narrative of how the beast of a war that surrounded his men demanded an indomitable front. If they exposed the weakness in themselves, they exposed it to each other, and such exposure was a reminder that none of them were as strong as they were supposed to be. So they turn to other methods of coping, some of which blur the very line between right and wrong. The crude language and behavior of the soldiers demonstrate that the forced masculinity imposed on them as men and as warriors only serves to add to their trauma.

The crude language of the soldiers appalls Tim O’Brien at first: the seemingly apathetic treatment of a dead child in a ditch, the things they’d say when a fellow soldier is shot in the head. They wouldn’t say dead, or killed: they would be as far from poetic as possible,...

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