The Things They Carried

the things they carried

2. Consider the different meanings of the word carry, which can refer to burdens abstract or concrete as well as to things carried physically or emotionally, actively or passively. Give one or two examples of each of the different senses in which O’Brien uses the word. How does his repeated use of the word enhance the story?

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O’Brien lists the things the soldiers carry -- both physical and emotional. All carry basic military goods and personal items: provisions, ammunition, and special ponchos that they may be wrapped in if they die. Army slang for carrying goods is “humping” them. Aside from the basic goods, explains O’Brien, all of the men “hump” slightly different things. One wears his girlfriend’s stockings around his neck, another carries a bible, another carries a slingshot, another comic books, another condoms.

Cross carries letters from a gray-eyed English literature student named Martha. He is in love with her, but he is obsessed with whether or not she is a virgin. THe word "carried" sets the tone of burden throughout the novel. Authors as far back as Homer described soldiers going into battle by naming the things that they carried: goatskins filled with water, spears, locks of hair from their beloved ones. O’Brien updates this literary strategy. His characters carry the modern implements of war. But the feeling evoked is similar: static lists make the characters seem already dead, prematurely mourned. The lists are like wills.