Time O’ Brien’s novella “The Things Them Carried” takes place during the Vietnam War. The story is about a group of seventeen soldiers. The title has two meanings. The title has two meanings. Second, the emotional burden that soldiers carried throughout the war. Their emotional baggage included constant worries about death, soldier’s wishes and desires, as well as personal issues.

The Vietnam War was no different from other wars. It didn’t matter if it was a friend or an enemy soldier, they always saw death. Tim O’ Brien’s “The Things They Carried”, explores how soldiers in Vietnam understood their roles, stayed in shape, and accepted the death of other soldiers. O’Brien uses repetition in order to direct the reader towards the main theme: “What these soldiers carried was partially a function both of their ranks and of their specialties.” The army believes that all soldiers must earn their position. Each soldier is assigned a specific role based on his or her rank. In the tale, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led the platoon. The story begins with eight men. However, the platoon has seventeen members.

The story describes the standard procedures for the equipment and positions that men were in. Jimmy Cross led the platoon. He had a compass with him as well as maps, codebooks, binoculars and pistol. Mitchell Sanders had to carry the 25-pound Radiotelephone Operator’s (RTO) radio. Rat Kiley was the platoon medic and carried a satchel with morphine, among other essentials. Henry Dobbins wore an M-60 with up to fifteen pounds in ammunition. The rest carried M-16s. The soldiers would carry weapons they found, like captured AK-47s or black market Uzis. Many, if not most, of the men carried a sentimental item. Jimmy Cross, for example, carried letters and pictures from Martha, the girl he was in love with. Kiowa carries a feathered knife and a book of scripture. Henry Dobbins was wearing his girlfriend’s pantyhose. Mitchell Sanders gave Norman Bowker an intact thumb that had been taken from the corpse of a deceased person.

Lieutenant Cross begins to realize, at the end, that he does not do his job very well. He is constantly thinking about Martha. He daydreams often about her, about being home with Martha. Cross decides to take charge after Ted Lavender’s death. He blames himself for Lavender’s death. “He felt shame. He hated his own self. He loved Martha, more than any of his men. Lavender, his only son, was now dead. Cross would carry this as a weight in his stomach through the remainder of the war. He would tell them that they should not abandon their equipment on the march route. The soldiers would be more disciplined, would maintain their equipment in good order and would not abandon it along the route of march. In times of war, it is vital that soldiers maintain a healthy mental and physical state.

The men in “The Things They Carried” carried two to three water canteens, as well as standard C-rations. Soldiers carried a variety of favorites to help maintain mental health. These included chewing gum, candy and cigarettes. These items were meant to bring soldiers joy and boost morale. Henry Dobbins carried extra food rations. “He was fond of peaches in syrup, over poundcake.” Jensen also carried floss, shampoos, and a small toothbrush. He used three pairs socks and foot powder to prevent trench foot. Trench foot is characterized by numbness, swelling, and redness of the feet. Later, blisters or sores may appear. The feet also start to turn blue. Sores are often infected by fungi. Malaria and Dengue plagued Vietnam’s soldiers.

They carried repellents to protect themselves from dengue and malaria. The soldiers had to be protected from gunshots and explosions by wearing helmets. Soldiers were motivated by the desire to be near their loved ones to keep them healthy and alert to danger. A Vietnamese tunnel is discovered by the platoon when it arrives in Than Khe. The platoon’s mission was to destroy all tunnels they found. But first, the search had to take place. Everyone drew numbers and the soldier with the seventeen number had to do the search first. The possibility of disaster was always present: the tunnel may collapse, a mine could be hidden, or enemy gunmen could be on hand. The soldier who was going to enter had to be the first one in. Anything that happened could have been fatal. Lee Strunk, who had been assigned the number 17, was required to examine the tunnel after removing all of his equipment to make it fit. Strunk was able to escape the tunnel alive. Lavender however, died after returning from the nature-based men’s restroom. Strunk’s safety was their main concern, and they did not think to protect the surrounding area. Lavender died because he was not following his routine. All of them carried a fear that kept them on their toes and alert. Lavender feared so much that he had tranquilizers with him, or he would be useless as a soldier.

It is important to accept the death of another soldier in war. The men set fire to Than Khe after Lavender is shot. They are angry at the loss of a comrade and burn down the entire city. Lavender’s corpse is taken away by a plane. The men are constantly talking about their desire to return home or at least leave Vietnam. The men react in different ways to Lavender’s passing: with relief, hysterical tears, and by destroying the village. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross wept because he had to be responsible for Lavender’s death, and for all of the men. He blamed himself for Lavender’s demise, telling himself he was too caught up in daydreaming about Martha. He knew she did not love him the way he did but he still fantasized about her. This put his men’s safety at risk. Kiowa talked constantly about Lavender dying to accept his absence. “Boom and down” is all Kiowa ever said. Cross always pulled himself back into reality when he found himself daydreaming of Martha. He did not wish to endanger anyone else’s safety.

Cross has a contradictory idea that he loves Martha while also hating her. He decides to move forward because he realizes she won’t love him the way he imagines. The narrator ensured the reader that they knew how much weight the soldiers had. The items they carried were either personal or sentimental. Fear and sadness were carried by all the men. All had loved ones in their home countries and all wished to return safely from Vietnam. The soldiers were motivated by many factors. Jimmy Cross was motivated by Martha to continue the journey of his platoon through Vietnam. It made him feel good to daydream about Martha. Cross became a stronger man and better leader when he decided to stop daydreaming. He did not want his men to be killed by his daydreaming. Fear was the main motivation for all of them to work and stay healthy. The only dream they had was to get on a plane and leave Vietnam.


  • louiedawson

    Hi, my name is Louie Dawson and I'm an educational blogger and school teacher. I've been writing and teaching kids about stuff like math, science, history, and English since 2010. I hope you enjoy my work!

Analysis Of The Motivation Of Soldiers In The Things They Carried By Tim O’brien


Hi, my name is Louie Dawson and I'm an educational blogger and school teacher. I've been writing and teaching kids about stuff like math, science, history, and English since 2010. I hope you enjoy my work!

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