"Boom-down, and you were dead, never partly dead.": An Examination of Responsibility in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried, a collection of short stories written by Tim O'Brien and published in 1990, is a story which takes place during the Vietnam war. The Vietnam war was a battle originally between North and South Vietnam. The United States army was brought in on behalf of South Vietnam. The costs of the Vietnam war were extremely high with approximately three million Vietnamese killed, fifty-eight thousand Americans killed and three-hundred thousand wounded. The main character in the first short story is Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, an American soldier. During war, or any situation, even the unrelated, the presence or lack of responsibility has a huge impact on all following events. As the happenings in the war are described, one may argue that Cross' personal value of responsibility is evident within The Things They Carried.
In the beginning of the story the narrator describes Cross' obsession with a girl named Martha. Martha is Cross' wished-to-be-lover from back home. Cross carried several letters from Martha covered in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. At the end of each day, he would ding is fox hole,bring out the letters and spend his night reading them; "they 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."(O'Brien 2) In this sense Cross was responsible as he waited until after battle was done with for the day to bring out his letters and thoughts of Martha.
Cross is having a great deal of trouble "keeping his mind on the war"(O'Brien 7) instead of Martha. He is always obsessing over her "smooth young face"(O'Brien 6), virgin legs and constantly wondering who she is or had spent her time with. Cross is separated from the real world, lost in his fantasies of Martha. This is a partial cause to the death of American sodier...
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