Things They Carried By O'Briens

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Things They Carried By O'Briens

                   In Timothy O'Brien's novel, The Things They Carried, a number of insightful
themes are forwarded by the author. One theme in particular interests me the
most; the subject area is how people handle their emotions through the avoidance
or distortion of reality. Specifically, throughout the novel a number of
characters respond to the emotionally charged realities they are confronted with
in one of two major ways, distortion or escapism. This pattern, shown throughout
the novel, surveys one manner in which humans approach the rough emotions they
carry with them throughout their life. To support this thesis I will analyze a
number of character's responses to emotional stressors and compare them against
my claims of escape and distortion reactions. I have identified two major ways
the characters I analyze respond to their realities in this novel, distortion
and escapism. When I identify something as distortion, I intend to imply that
the characters take the edge off of the reality of their situations by making
the events they encounter seem less real. Examples of such behavior would
include finding humor in otherwise horrifying situations or even romanticizing
the environment around them to make it seem something different than what it is.
The escapist manner of reacting to the intensity of emotions is to distance
oneself from the actual events or surrounding. To accomplish this all a
character needs to do is to daydream themselves away from the problem or to
create alternative realities in their own mind. It is important to establish
that O'Brien develops the premise that the emotions and situations these men had
to deal with were very intense and traumatic. Beyond the more or less obvious
contention that dealing with death and war might be painful, there is textual
support that O'Brien is trying to get this message across. On page 20, the
narrator says, "They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might
die. Grief, terror, love, longing-these were intangibles, but the intangibles
had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight." This
analysis sets up textual basis for my theme. If it is true that these soldiers
experience (d) tremendous emotions then there is room to analyze how they go
about carrying their tangible "emotional baggage." Additionally, it
should be noted that the characters I analyze in this paper are only a small
representative sample of the larger number of characters who may very well fit
my within my thesis statement. It is also noteworthy to mention that how I
classify a character in terms of their response to emotional intensity-escape or
distortion-is very much a debatable contention. Given that, I do believe,
however, that my conclusions will stand on the merit of my analysis. In the
first chapter, Timothy O'Brien wastes no time examining one coping mechanism,
escapism. Escapism is a rather basic way of handling intense emotions. Timothy
O'Brien first introduces a character named Lieutenant Jimmy Cross who exhibits
the escapist manner of dealing with his emotions. Jimmy Cross is the Lieutenant
of the group of men that this story focuses on. Jimmy Cross is first introduced
fantasizing about his love, a girl name Martha. Martha is a student back home in
New Jersey and for all intents and purposes does not return Lieutenant Cross's
love. On pages 3 and 4, the narrator comments that, "They [the letters]
were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a
way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant."
Thus, despite the fact that Lieutenant Cross acknowledges that Martha probably
does not return his love, he still daydreams about falling in love with Martha
and the times they spent together before the war. The somewhat excessive, so it
seems to the reader, amount of time Jimmy Cross spends thinking about Martha may
indeed be a failure of reading. We ask ourselves why it is that Jimmy Cross
spends so much time thinking about Martha? This and other similar questions
about the daydreaming provide room for interpretation. This daydreaming of
Martha is a way of escaping the intensity of emotion Jimmy Cross has to bear
during the war. We find out that in the week before Ted Lavender dies Jimmy
Cross daydreams a great deal about Martha. This daydreaming helps to take him
away from the intensity of the war. On pages 9 and 10 the narrator describes how
Lieutenant Cross would walk along his missions thinking about spending time with
Martha. While on tour, Lieutenant Cross once received a pebble in a

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