The Guilt They Carried

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The Guilt They Carried The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a set of connected short pieces that tell the stories of the men of the Alpha Company before, during and after the Vietnam War. Far from a combat story of pride and glory, it is a compassionate tale dealing with the surreal and ambiguous nature of war. O’Brien illustrates the true brutality of war, beyond the glamour of Hollywood or the excitement of a game. Guilt is present throughout the novel as all the characters in The Things They Carried are haunted by guilt and look for someone or something to blame. They feel guilty for the deaths of men in their platoon, for the deaths of Vietnamese, and for their own inadequacies. This leads each individual’s guilt to develop in a different manner and force the individual to cope with the guilt in the best way they see fit. After the war, the psychological burdens the men carry during the war continue to define them. Years after the end of the war, Jimmy Cross goes to visit Tim O’Brien at his home and together they look at old photographs and reminisce. “We paused over a snapshot of Ted Lavender, and after a while Jimmy rubbed his eyes and said he’d never forgiven himself for Lavender’s death. It was something that would never go away, he said quietly” (27). Cross believes that because he was so obsessed with his fantasy of Martha and the life they might lead after the war, he was negligent. Therefore, Cross sees Lavender’s death as the result of his negligence. His confession to O’Brien, years later, testifies to his intense feeling of guilt about the incident. The death of Kiowa brings many people to feel responsible for his tragic death, especially Norman Bowker. Through the memory of Norman Bowker, the story of Kiowa’s death is relayed in retrospect, years after the war. As Bowker drives around a lake in his Iowa hometown, he thinks that he failed in
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