The Things They Carried Literary Analysis

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The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien’s excerpt from his short story The Things They Carried follows a group of soldiers in the middle of the Vietnam War, by discussing everything they carried with them, tangible or not. It begins with Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, who carries letters from a girl named Martha; who he is truly infatuated with. The story goes on to tell of the death of a low ranked solider named Ted Lavender. Lieutenant Cross takes full responsibility of Lavender’s death and ends up burning all his cherished letters from Martha in order to focus more clearly on his men. O’Brien uses symbolism in this short story to develop Martha as being both a positive and negative figure for Lieutenant Cross.
As Martha is being introduced she is right away perceived as a symbol for love, virginity and life after the war for Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. He realizes that she is not a virgin nor is she in love with him, but she was his light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of the war. Every night Lieutenant Cross would hold the letters and “spend the last hour of light pretending. Imagining romantic camping trips into the White Mountains … tasting the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there.” (Pg. 87) For Cross, Martha is not just a girl who sends him letters signed “Love,” she represents a life after the war, a life outside of the war, a life that includes romantic trips with a lover. The war is such a large strain on the soldiers, that they need something to look forward to and hope for, to get them through the war, and that is exactly what Martha is for Cross. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross tasting the envelope flaps shows just how infatuated he truly is with the idea of Martha. He will do anything that will give him even the slightest remembrance of how she smells or tastes. And by him doing all of this in the last hour of light supports the idea once again how absolutely vital the idea of Martha is to him. I am sure he could have been doing many other tasks that...

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