Psychological Criticism “The Things They Carried”

PsychologicalCriticism “TheThings They Carried

Thenovel, “TheThings They Carried,”by O’Brien tells the intrigues of war. It narrates the experiencesof a group of soldiers who are sent to war in Vietnam. O’Brienexpresses his mastery of literary language in the most comprehensibleand engaging fashion. As I read the story, I am entertained by themanner of conversation the soldiers in O’Brien’s story had. Thesoldiers represent the spirit of endurance in a war situation. Thestory revolves around troops that convey the struggles’ soldiersundergo in war. At times, I feel vulnerable walking in mind throughthis war jungle with the soldiers. One would feel the pain andanguish of being far from home and powerless to exercise control overone’s circumstances. The writer, O’Brien, is generous with wordsin his narration and explores a variety of literary styles to composesuch a masterpiece. In this paper, I endeavor to develop the literaryforms in this novel and exploit the themes that are created in thestory.

Thestory strongly appeals to the emotional side of the audience. As thewriter maneuvers his thoughts through the events, one is glued to thenarration, anticipating more exciting things to follow. The storyexpresses many themes such as love, conflict, war, fear, and courage.All these themes are explicitly portrayed in the story to develop thenarration of the war. Every soldier is depicted to cling to somethingas their hope. For example, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross had the love ofMartha to give him the strength to face their adversity, and Kiowahad his New Testament Bible given to him by his father. He findspeace in reading it. At some point, he even uses it as a pillow.

Thetitle, ‘TheThings They Carried,”is formulated from the narrator’s expression of how his soldiersusually carried their luggage as they went on the mission. Theirmissions were always commands, and Jimmy Cross in the story explainsthat many times they set on a mission they had no idea what they weregoing to do. At some point they burnt Than Khe village after thedeath of Lavender a fellow soldier.

Thepeculiarity of this story is reflected in how the soldiers carriedthings in their bags. They carried them everywhere they went, whetherin the rain or under the scorching heat of the sun. The narratordocuments that, “Whatthey carried was partly a function of rank, partly of fieldspecialty,”(O’brien, 2009).The story records that Jimmy Cross, the leader ofhis group carried “astrobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men,”(O’brien, 2009).

Thisnarration also reveals the effects of morality in war. It expounds onthe component that ignites a desire for the pleasure at war. Thesoldiers sometimes address their experience as an ugly one thatentails retaliation and a fierce defense for their lives. They harborfear within them but pretend to be strong as not to show it. However,when the troop experiences the death of a fellow soldier, forinstance, the demise of Lavender by a gunshot, Jimmy Cross breaksinto a cry because he blames himself for the soldier’s death giventhe fact that he was not present to protect him. Jimmy seemingly wasdistracted by the constant nostalgia of Martha. I observe that evenKiowa is psychologically affected by Lavender’s death as depictedby his continuous narration of the events even after his body istransported by the chopper back home. Kiowa is traumatized by thisdeath (O’brien, 2009).

Thewriter illustrates the psychological influence of this war on thesoldiers. He mentions how the events of this war torture the minds ofthe soldiers. However, they have learned to cope with the happenings,and they can even afford to express humor in such moments.

Itis worth mentioning that Kiowajust like many others shows confusion over what soldiers think theyshould feel in such situations. After the death of their fellow, heexpresses happiness, not that Lavender dies, but because he remainsalive after the gun exchange. These experiences could affect onegreatly mentally, physically or psychologically.

Itis also of significance to relate the concept of love as developed inthis novel. Jimmy Cross falls in love with a girl named Martha. Theyhadnot shared a lot of moments while in America before he was sent towar in Vietnam. In the battlefield, he only had her two pictures andlater some pebble to hold onto as her memory. In the thick of thislove, he loses himself, sometimes even daydreaming, risking his workand acting as though it is of no concern to him. He is distractedevery time because his fantasies of her are intense. However, afterTed’s death, he burns the photos and throws away the stones,realizing that all he had were fantasies, and now he has to step upas the leader of his group.

Thewriter describes this kind of love as an obsession, preventing itsvictims from matching up to the reality. Victims will always miss alot of what takes place in the real world and spend their yearswasted on things that do not exist.

Thenovelist uses the elements of literature writing through theapplication of daily lives of soldiers to reach the audience. Hecaptures the attention of students of history, linguists, poets, andeven psychologists. In the team of soldiers there was a medic calledRat Kiley, who is described to have carried malarial drugs, morphine,plasma, surgical tapes and comic books. He represents the part of thejungle where the soldiers not only encountered adversity in men butalso in disease.

Thestory reveals the resilient attitude that is in the hearts of thesoldiers. They strive to perform their duty as commanded despite themany challenges they meet. The concept of loyalty is seen among thesoldiers. Though they do not have a program as to which village theywill go the next day, they always obeyed the commands of theirleaders. In this jungle, they need courage and determination tosurvive.

Allthe characters involved seem to carry something. At some point, thewriter records that they carry ghosts because it is for no apparentreason that they have to cling to these things that only haunt them.These things remind them of home and the sweet memories they had backthen when in the real sense, they were faced with death.

Thestory shows the caring nature of human beings. These soldiers believethey are on a quest that will eventually restore peace and offer thema way back home. Therefore, they pretend to be strong at heart andnot entertaining any form of weakness lest they are affected by whatis happening around them. However, the narrator states that they havefear within themselves to the extent that when the gun exchangesubsides and they are in safety, they express a relief of tension.Nobody wants to die and even for them, the constant witnessing ofdeaths affects their minds.

Inillustrating the theme of conflict, we realize many situations thatcause conflict. For instance, conflict is waged in the mind ofLieutenant Jimmy Cross, trying to understand who should be the firstpriority. Is it the fantasy he has of Martha taking precedence or hisresponsibility to his team? However, after the death of Ted, herealizes to whom he owes his allegiance. Martha is just a memory thatis creating in him an obsession, yet in reality he is in Vietnamfighting a war that has already claimed one of his members.

Anotherinstance of conflict is the war that causes Jimmy and his group to becommitted to Vietnam. They have to leave the peace of home to a wartone zone. They have an obligation to win the war and in turn restoreorder, though their efforts are futile as eventually, they lost thewar.

Thewriter uses a poetic language to convey his message. For example, therepetitive application of the word “Theycarried.”The author expresses imagery by saying that “theycarried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae, and variousrots and molds. They carried the land itself”(O’brien, 2009).

Thewriter presents violence as regarding the burden rather than battlethrough purposely non-dramatic structure by laying emphasis on theconstant pressure of war instead of the climatic action of combat.The story, “TheThings They Carried,”portrays the utter necessity of moral assessment.

In“TheThings They Carried,”O’Brien dreadfully endeavors to make his audience trust thatwhatever is written in the novel is real as he intends them to stepoutside their confine zone and experience the activities that aredepicted in the story. Tim explains that it is impossible to knowwhat happened in Vietnam, until his narration gets us the closest tothe reality of the Vietnam War (Wesley, 2002). He intends that weexperience the “twentyyears after the war when he returned to the place his friend Kiowasank into a “field of shit”(O’brien, 2009).


Decisively,the novel, “TheThings They Carried,”by Tim O’Brien reveals the lauded artistic prowess of O’Brienfilled with literary styles to capture his readers’ attention and apeculiar way of expressing the truth to his audience. The storynarrates an experience that resonates with the modern-day man’sstruggle. The fight to love and be loved back, and to takeresponsibility for the obligation bestowed. There are a lot oflessons that a person can derive from the Vietnam soldiers’experience in O’Brien’s voice. Thus, Tim O’Brien usespsychological criticism to connect to the readers of his novel byexpressing the daily emotional struggles of Vietnam soldiers.


O`brien,T. (2009). TheThings They Carried.Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Wesley,M. (2002). Truth and Fiction in Tim O`Brien`s&quot If I Die in aCombat Zone&quot and&quot The Things They Carried&quot. CollegeLiterature,29(2),1-18.