Jeremy Keeshin “The Things They Carried” Explication They shared the weight of memory.

They took up what others could no longer bear, Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct. They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself. Vietnam, the place, the sod -a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity. They moved like mules. By daylight they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. They marched for the sake of the march. They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up again and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility. Their principles were in their feet. Their calculations were biological. They had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched the villages without knowing what to look for, nor caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same. They carried their own lives (O’Brien 14-15). This quotation comes at a point in the story when O’Brien mentions all of the odds and ends that the soldiers bring with them. He mentions the games and medals and diseases that they carried, as well as the intangibles like memory. O’Brien continues to talk about how despite the fact that the soldiers carried all of these things as tokens of their humanity, their actions had a sort of automatic quality about them. He contrasts the personal mementos that they carried with the routine actions that they had to perform during the war. Although Lieutenant Jimmy Cross tries to fall back to his visceral feelings, the routine activity of the war turns him into a creature of habit. O’Brien emphasizes the repetitive nature of wartime through his forceful use of syntax and repetition. At the start of each section of the story, and constantly throughout each section, O’Brien refers to “the things they carried” (4). He repeats this phrase to place importance on the fact that the baggage that they had to bear during

Jeremy Keeshin the war defined their character, but it was not always them who defined what was in their baggage. He mentions that the items each carried were a function of necessity, rank, the mission, and superstition. All of these factors excluding superstition demonstrate that it was not up to the soldiers what they carried. What they carried because of superstition was all that they had to distinguish them from the others. The soldiers were like lemmings in the sense that they “moved like mules” (15). O’Brien says that they “marched for the sake of the march,” which reveal that they did not know the reason that they were out there (15). Their work is characterized in the sense that it is monotonous and repetitious. O’Brien describes their marches using words like “dumbly,” “unthinking,” “simple grunts,” “no volition,” “no will,” “automatic,” “anatomy,” as if to suggest that all of their actions were natural and intrinsic to them. In this sense the war blends all of the intricate personalities of each soldier into one larger, unthinking group of puppets. The slang words “humps” and “grunts” are used to demonstrate the disgraceful nature of the work. The constant repetition of lists and specific details in the exact items that each soldier carried bring even more attention to it. These devices emphasize the repetition of events during the war and how it caused each to lose grasp on their humanity. Cross’ distance from his emotions make it impossible for him to truly connect and this causes him to misconstrue the line between his imagination and reality. At the start of the story when Cross reads his letters from Martha, O’Brien uses diction to show the relationship that the two have. He uses words like “pretending,” “imagine,” “elusive,” and “wonder” to show that Cross is so removed from Martha that their relationship only exists in his imagination. He shows this about the other soldiers when he says that “they all carried ghosts” (10). This reveals that they are so isolated from reality fantasy and hope only survives as an idea. O’Brien uses recurring details to show Cross’ disconnect from the real world. He says that “[Martha] belonged

Jeremy Keeshin to another world, which was not quite real” and later refers to again the fact that she is a virgin and a poet and a student, because these are the only strands of hope that remind him of her. These details prove Cross’ desperation and longing. Throughout the book the setting plays a key role in developing the psyche of the soldiers. O’Brien use of the notion of wartime and necessity exacerbate Cross’ ignis fatuus. The excerpt from above illuminates the meaning of the story because it is a focal passage for discovering the nature of the minds of the soldiers, especially the main character Lieutenant Cross. It highlights the automatic nature of being a soldier, but demonstrates the coping mechanisms that they had to maintain their individuality. It accentuates the despair in being a soldier and being caught in the larger machine of the war as well as the importance of maintaining any hope of reality back at home. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is delusional because the war makes him a character of rote activity and causes him to become disconnected with his emotions.

Jeremy Keeshin Explain quotation in context of story (brief) Argument at end of this section emerges Lead with ideas—use stylistic devices to get to theme Words phrases and other brief cited quotes Globality How does passage shed light on meaning Conclude with assertion 25, dispense with love 20, emotional baggage 17, a world not quite real 12, but hes not there 10, they all carried ghosts 9, he loved her so much 5, to carry was to hump 4, determined by necessity 3 pretending

Syntax Repition of “the things they carried” Using lists SHOWS REPITITION 3rd person omniscient – with Jimmy Cross Slang – humped Diction Setting – Vietnam war Time based on before and after Ted Lavender died Details, repeated lists, specific thigns they carried Repitition Objectifies them, makes them characers of repition Try to maintain their humanity, but are unable to