For young people, the Vietnam War is a thing of the past and they can
only learn about it from second hand sources. In Tim O’brien’s The
Things They Carried, it becomes very apparent that the Vietnam
conflict has proved to be one that many of the participants have not
been able move away from, while getting on with their lives. Obrien
shows that the conflict takes on a parasitic form that eats away on
its victims for the rest of their lives.
A parasite is defined as an organism that grows, feeds, and is
sheltered on or in a different organism while harming its host. The
war in this case takes the place of the organism, and the host becomes
the soldiers. There are several examples of the parasitic nature of
war through out the book. In one particular section, Tim O’Brien
returns to Vietnam with his daughter. Twenty years had gone by, but it
seems as though all of his thoughts are geared back to the time he had
spent in the jungle so long before. The two of them travel all over
the country, but before their departure, he returns to the field where
he feels he lost everything. On this list he includes his honor, his
best friend, and all faith in himself. For O’Brien, evidence of the
parasite is not solely in his return Vietnam, but rather a constant
personal preoccupation that seems to flow through the collection of
stories. O’Brien shows how the memories of the war take on a parasitic
form, and uses himself as an example.
In the chapter Speaking of Courage, O’Brien introduces a character
by the name of Norman Bowker. In the story Norman finds him self home
after serving his time in Vietnam. Even though he is back in his home
town, things do not seem the same to him. The was seems to have put a
new spin on his life. Most of the story he spends driving in circles
while thinking about the war and his lack of place in his old society.
The war becomes his whole life, and he feels as though he is to far
distant from the town people for them to understand. The reader then
finds out that Bowker commits suicide because the parasitic affect of
his memories became to much for him to handle.
There is another section in the book where a man named Jimmy Cross
comes to visit O’Brien after the war. They talk of experiences and
hardships, then it becomes apparent Cross has also been unable to
totally move on with his life. There are still secrets, and they still
weigh heavy on his mind even during his his every day civilian life.
O’Brien never complains about these problems, but it is clear the they
bother him a great deal.
There are countless themes in this book, but one of the major ones is
the after effects the war had and still has on the men that were
there. It is clear from O’Brien’s writing on Cross, Bowker, and
himself is more than just story telling. In using these people he
attempts to show what the war has done to the population of soldiers
that participated in the conflict.