Analyzing Techniques In Bachelder English Literature Essay

O’Brien begins his book by simply stating facts. He tells how each soldier was required to carry an immense amount of gear, ranging from the steel-centered nylon-covered flak jacket, which weighed 6.7 pounds (pg.3), to the 28- pound mine detector (pg.9). He begins by stating deaths, like the death of Ted Lavender, a Spec 4 who was scared and smoked dope to calm his nerves (pg. 3). O’Brien begins his novel as a war soldier. He ends his book by reminiscing about a girl he loved in the fifth grade, a nine year old name Linda who died of a brain tumor. He dreams Linda alive (pg. 213), and he dreams about all the ones he loved and lost, like the good Indian soldier Kiowa (pg.232). He ends his novel as a writer trying to calm the anguished memories of being a war soldier. The novel covers O’Brien’s two year experience at war, and it fast forwards to his life now as a forty-three year old writer.

The point of view in The Things They Carried shifts from 3rd Omniscient to 1st Person, and the perspective swings from reminiscent to recent perspective, both in the past tense. When O’Brien is telling about a certain incident, he uses a recent voice. For example, when he receives his draft notice, he writes that when he opened up the letter, he could feel the blood go thick behind his eyes. A silent howl came from his mind. He was thinking a million things at once: he was too good for this war; too smart, too compassionate, too everything. It couldn’t happen. He was above it (pg. 39). When O’Brien is reflecting about the war, he is reminiscent. This is exemplified when he is pondering the death of Curt Lemon, whose body parts were blown up all over a tree. O’Brien reflects that he can still see the sunlight on Lemon’s face when he was lifted high into a tree and instantly killed (pg.80).

Tim O’Brien is the protagonist when the point of view is 1st Person. When the book is in the 3rd Omniscient, the writer seems to know the thoughts and feelings of every soldier marching along the red dirt trails. For example, when the Indian soldier Kiowa is told to shut up and go to sleep, he lies quiet on the damp soil and O’Brien reveals his thoughts. He is trying not to think about Ted Lavender, who died earlier. He is trying to focus on the New Testament that he keeps under his cheek, which currently smells of leather and ink and paper and glue. He is pleased to be alive (pg.17). The author chose to write with a 3rd Omniscient point of view because that way important details can be revealed through the thoughts of other characters. Those details would not have had the ability to be presented if O’Brien written in a simple limited omniscient point of view.

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O’Brien creates a very comfortable environment with his chosen point of views. Some topics of the novel make readers cringe and even weep, and the author writes consoling reflections. He knows how we are feeling, because he feels the same grief. O’Brien wants readers to feel as if the events of Vietnam happened to them personally. He wants readers to feel pain, suffering, and even spurts of happiness, so that they can better understand the suffering he feels. His purpose is to persuade his audience into thinking like he does.

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The characters in this book are round, dynamic, and very believable. They are revealed through direct characterization. There are seven main characters whose attributes are complex: Tim O’Brien, Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa. They are all protagonists and members of the Alpha Company. Although there is no character who could be labeled as the antagonist, that role most certainly goes to Vietnam itself. Vietnam represents the horror, the gore, and the emptiness that mark these victimized men’s lives.

The obvious central character is Tim O’Brien. In the war, Tim is 21 years old, a fresh intellectual graduate from Macalester College (pg. 38). He was against the war from the very beginning; it was his view that you don’t make a war without knowing why, and in Vietnam certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons (pg. 38). As a soldier, Tim is strong and muscled; he has coarse dark hair that has not been cut for awhile. His hands and feet are adorned in sores and blisters; his arms have a deep bush tan. Tim’s face is usually decorated with Vietnam muck, and his clothes are covered in a powdery orange-red dust. Tim is thoughtful; he remembers details about everyone, like when he asks Lieutenant Jimmy Cross about Martha during a visit in Massachusetts many years after the war is over (pg. 27). Tim is a very proud person; his main incentive to go to Nam was that he did not want townspeople to talk about him as the “damned sissy” who ran away from the draft. Above all things, Tim is a storyteller. He talks about things in such a way that you can breathe in the scents of the verdant vegetation that

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covers Vietnam’s fields, you can hear the shots of a .45 caliber coming from the rice paddy. Tim is the one telling the story of Nam. He is a firm believer in the magic of storytelling. “That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” This quote reveals Tim’s real obsession, which isn’t Nam, isn’t writing, and isn’t his constant grief. His real obsession is the stories: all the stories that he survived to tell.

Another central character is Norman Bowker. Norman is 21 years old, a gentle person, with a good heart. He carries a diary and a thumb of a VC corpse (pg. 12). He is best friends with Kiowa, the Indian soldier who is killed, and the two have long conversations that carry into the night about the mystique of the land they are in. He is a brave soldier; he won seven badges for common valor (pg.135). Norman is always under pressure, not just from fighting, but because his father expects so much out of him. His father wants his son to come home with prestigious medals like the Silver Star (pg. 34). When Norman comes home from Vietnam, he drives a rusty Chevy around the lake in his Iowa hometown and dreams of having conversations with his father: in them, his dad is proud (pg. 135). He dreams about hugging. Because of the constant emptiness he feels, Norman hangs himself in the locker room of the YMCA shortly after the war (pg.149). Norman Bowker was a strong, quick-minded person, but after the war he was left with nothing to hold onto. Everything was stripped from him. “The thing is, there’s no place to go. Not just in this lousy little town. In general. My life, I mean. It’s almost like I got killed over in Nam…Hard to describe. That night when Kiowa got wasted, I sort of sank down into the sewage with him…Feels like I’m still in deep shit.” (pg. 150). This quote reveals

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Norman’s inability to find a meaningful purpose in life. His function in the novel is to represent all the Vietnam soldiers who were unable to find peace within after the war: the soldiers who lost themselves in the muck.

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The Things They Carried is set in Vietnam in the year 1969. Events in the novel are set specifically in the regions Than Khe, Song Tra Bong, and My Khe. The environment is mushy, muddy, and always wet. The paddies, rivers, and fields are cold and swamped by mosquitoes which thrive in the rainy monsoon weather. There are no symbolic meanings in the setting.

The author uses setting to capture the essence of Vietnam wilderness in words. O’Brien creates a cold, wet, dismal atmosphere. The air is thick with mosquitoes. It rains every day. There is no stopping the rain; there is no stopping the grief. One can get sucked into Vietnam. Physically, like how Kiowa gets sucked into the boiling scum of a village toilet field (pg 143). Mentally, like when sweet Mary Anne Bell becomes obsessed with the land and leaves her boyfriend Mark Fossie for the Greenies because she wants to swallow Vietnam up whole (pg. 106). O’Brien reveals how you can lose yourself in this type of atmosphere. You can forget who you were, who you are, and who you wanted to be. You can go crazy, like medic Rat Kiley, who shoots himself in the foot to get back to the States (pg. 212).

Setting is crucial to this novel. The Things They Carried is a collection of war stories, all of which occur in filthy, soggy Vietnam. Nam makes the soldiers lose their minds. The setting makes the soldiers go crazy.

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The diction is informal, colloquial language. The author writes his novel as if he is telling a story. “The war wasn’t all terror and violence. Sometimes things could get almost sweet. For instance, I remember a little boy with a plastic leg… (pg.30).” He writes as if he is simply having a conversation with someone, adding his own commentary to make sense of certain events. “A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe. This one does it for me. I’ve told it before-many times, many versions, but here’s what actually happened (pg. 74).” O’Brien uses military phrases such as “booby-trapped 105 round (pg. 74)”, “can of C rations (pg. 75)”, “SOP (pg. 2)” and “the chopper came to take him away (pg. 6).” He says that soldiers “were called legs or grunts (pg. 3)” and that “to carry something was to hump it”, meaning to walk or march. O’Brien’s soldier’s jargon indicates that his intended audience is veterans who understand military terminology. It also reminds readers that O’Brien was a soldier himself.

The author uses graphic imagery. For example, when he sees the dead man outside of the village of My Khe, he describes the corpse: “His jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star-shaped hole…the skin at his left cheek was peeled back in three ragged strips, his right cheek smooth and hairless…his neck was open to the spinal cord and the blood there was thick and shiny… (pg. 118).”

The language is plain. It is straightforward and to the point. The novel could be easily read by a middle school student, like O’Brien’s young daughter Kathleen. He wrote this novel in

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simple words so that his thought and his anguish could be easily understood. The diction indicates the social status of a retired Viet soldier who still talks with a soldier’s tongue. There isn’t a vast amount of dialogue. It takes up perhaps 1/10 of the words in the novel. What dialogue there is contains foul language, a product of wartime misery. The soldiers converse with one another and swear appreciatively at what has happened to them. This contrasts with the narrative voice, which does not say bad words but rather meditates on the events of Vietnam “nightlife.”

The characters, which are all soldiers, all share the same speech. They all swear. They all speak military phrases. They use a hard vocabulary: a grunt lingo. Instead of saying that someone has died, they say that someone has been “greased” or “zapped while zipping.”

The following passages are representative of O’Brien’s distinctive diction.

“By and large they carried these things inside, maintaining the masks of composure. They sneered at sick call. They spoke bitterly about guys who had found release by shooting off their own toes or fingers. Pussies, they’d say. Candy-asses. It was fierce, mocking talk, with only a trace of envy or awe, but even so the image played itself out behind their eyes. They imagined the muzzle against flesh. So easy: squeeze the trigger and blow away a toe. They imagined it. They imagined the quick, sweet pain, then the evacuation to Japan, then a hospital with warm beds and cute geisha nurses. And they dreamed of the freedom birds. At night, on guard, staring into the dark, they were carried away by jumbo jets. They felt the rush of takeoff. Gone! They yelled. And then velocity-wings and engines-a smiling stewardess- but it was more than a place,

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it was a real bird, a big sleek silver bird with feathers and talons and high screeching. They were flying. The weights fell off; there was nothing to bear. They laughed and held on tight, feeling the cold slap of wind and altitude, soaring, thinking It’s over, I’m gone!- they were naked, they were light and free-it was all lightness, bright and fast and buoyant… (pg.21)”

“What happened to her, Rat said, was what happened to all of them. You come over clean and you get dirty and then afterward it’s never the same. A question of degree. Some make it intact, some don’t make it at all. For Mary Anne Bell, it seemed, Vietnam had the effect of a powerful drug: that mix of unnamed terror and unnamed pleasure that comes as the needle slips in and you know you’re risking something. The endorphins start to flow, and the adrenaline, and you hold your breath and creep quietly through the moonlit nightscapes; you become intimate with danger; you’re in touch with the far side of yourself, as though it’s another hemisphere, and you want to string it out and go wherever the trip takes you and be host to all the possibilities inside yourself. Not bad, she’d said. Vietnam made her glow in the dark. She wanted more, she wanted to penetrate deeper into the mystery of herself, and after a time the wanting became needing, which turned then to craving (pg 109).”

The soldiers are tough, hardened men. They “sneer” and “speak bitterly.” They call cowards “pussies” and “candy-asses.” But in reality, they are only 19 and 21 year olds: they are just boys. They maintain “masks of composure”, but they dream of being set “free” from the war. They dream of being “naked” and “bright and fast and buoyant.” The diction helps define the characters. The characters are soldiers who did not choose to be brave, but were rather drafted and forced to prove their valor. Inside, they are just boys wishing to go back to their

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mainstream lives before Nam. The diction helps set the tone, which in the tone of a storyteller. The soldiers tell stories to ease the pain of the constant tug of war, just as they try to ease their fear of death by “sneering” at it.

However, some soldiers are not strong enough to resist Vietnam. Some don’t make it “intact.” These are the soldiers who view Vietnam as the “needle” for a “drug” of “terror and unnamed pleasure.” This drug has the ability to make one “glow in the dark” and it is wanted, needed and craved. It seduces the soldiers, and makes them lose sight of everything. These soldiers were once 19 and 21 year old boys, and then became tough, hardened men. Now they are crazy people. The diction furthers the theme that Vietnam can break the best men so they are defeated in the greatest battle of all: the battle within oneself. Now they must search for a remedy to cure their fanatical selves.

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The sentences in this book are predominantly complex. On average, there are about 15-25 words per long sentence. The author frequently puts in a short sentence to break up an ongoing thought. The writing is not formal. There are some sentence fragments, which usually appear during conversation. For example, when O’Brien talks about his anger when older women tend to “like” the story about Curt Lemon’s seemingly “peaceful death”, he writes the following fragments: “All you can do is tell it one more time, patiently, adding and subtracting, making up a few things to get at the real truth. No Mitchell Sanders, you tell her. No Lemon, no Rat Kiley. No trail junction. No baby buffalo. No vines or moss or white blossoms (pg.81).”

The author also uses the art of repetition. He repeats the phrase ‘I remember…” countless times, reminding readers that this is a story based on true memories. In the first chapter, O’Brien repeatedly writes “the things they carried” and goes on to list the baggage, which is anything from 26 pound PRC-25 radios to dental floss to ammunition to pound cake to grief. By repeating “the things they carried”, O’Brien creates rhythm, making this particular chapter catchy to the reader and easy for them to recall. The author wants his audience to remember the heavy load soldier’s had a responsibility for. Throughout the novel, the author repeats “I’m 43 years old, and a writer now. The war has been over for a long time.” This particular sentence recaps that the author is an actual character in the book: 21 year old Tim O’Brien, soldier and member of the Alpha Company. Now he is 43 year old Tim O’Brien, retired vet and storyteller.

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There are not very many periodic sentences in The Things They Carried. There is much variety to sentence pattern. Any given paragraph typically contains very long sentences, then a quick four word liner. For example, “I passed through towns with familiar names, through the pine forests and down to the prairies, and then to Vietnam, where I was a soldier, and then home again. I survived, but it’s not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to war (pg. 58).” O’Brien uses syntax to create rhythm and flow of the language. He writes using parallel structure and he catalogues with three phrases, which is automatically rhythmic. He breaks up the beat of a detailed complex sentence with a short phrase to create a choppy marching rhythm to match the choppy marching of the soldiers. The short phrases are straightforward, clear sentences that contain the author’s main idea, enhancing the book’s effect on the reader. For example, when Mitchell Sanders tells the story of some guys hearing things in the mountains, he says, “It’s crazy, I know, but they hear the champagne corks, they hear the actual martini glasses. Real hoity-toity, all very civilized, except this isn’t civilization. This is Nam (pg. 71).” Because the phrase “this is Nam” is so short compared to the others, the words become fixed in a reader’s brain. The idea that Nam is an uncivilized, aboriginal place is emphasized.

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Concrete Detail/ Imagery

There is ample imagery present in this book. Most of the detail is detail of the way Vietnam looks to an American in combat. O’Brien talks about the “ragged green mountains (pg. 67)”, the “paddy algae (pg. 14)”, and “the thick walls of wilderness, triple-canopied jungle, mountains unfolding into higher mountains, ravines and gorges and fast-moving rivers and waterfalls and exotic butterflies and smoky little hamlets and great valleys of bamboo and elephant grass (pg. 87).” He talks about smells: good smells like “smoke and deep greenery (pg. 75)” and bad smells like “a mix of blood and scorched hair and excrement and the sweet-sour odor of moldering flesh-the stink of the kill (pg. 105).” He writes about the sounds of war: “light popping (pg.66)” sounds of smoke grenades, the “bubbling (pg. 76)” of the latrine field where Kiowa died, and the pulse “ticking (pg. 195)” in your head as you wait in the darkness. He notes the sense of touch. War has the feel of a great ghostly fog, “thick and permanent (pg. 78)” with vapors that can “suck” you in. Soldiers feel “slick (pg. 103)” with sweat during “damp (pg. 100)” misty nights where they are unable to tell where they are. There is no detail of the taste and flavor of food because the Alpha Company did not relish in buffets and steak. They ate rations of whatever they could get from the chopper.

Imagery plays the role of making the Vietnam War alive to readers. Readers can smell the smoke and deep greenery, they can see the smoky little hamlets. Their noses crinkle with displeasure from the smell of scorched hair and moldering flesh. They can feel the thickness of the fog coming in on all sides, enclosing them. They are onlookers of the war.

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The Things They Carried is not a highly symbolic novel. There are some objects that can be pointed out as symbols. Henry Dobbins’s girlfriend’s stockings he keeps wrapped around his neck are a symbol of protection; in all the months in Nam, the man is never scratched or wounded (pg. 112). Gray eyes are a symbol of emptiness. Martha and Mary Anne Bell’s eyes both turn gray when they deny the boys that love them. More than anything, the characters are symbolic. Kiowa is a symbol of all the genuinely good, charismatic soldiers who died (pg. 163). Mary Anne Bell is symbolic of the people who went mad in Nam (pg. 110). The young dead man that Tim “killed” is a symbol of all the innocent blood that was shed. Women are symbolic for something that cannot be attained; every woman mentioned in the story: Martha, Mary Anne, Henry Dobbins’s girlfriend, and cancer-stricken Linda, leaves their intended lover one way or another.

Symbolism serves the purpose of connecting the book’s events to a reader’s own personal life. Many Americans are superstitious and keep an object with them as “protection”, be it a ring or a blanket or a girlfriend’s stockings. Nearly everyone has dealt with the loss of a loved one; O’Brien’s loved ones is Kiowa. Relatives of Nam veterans have faced the prospect of their beloved becoming depressed. Almost every young adult has experienced the heartbreak caused by a significant other.

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Figurative Language

The author of The Things They Carried uses many different metaphorical devices. He is most fond of similes; they are present on almost every page of the novel. He uses similes to describe weaponry and battles. “You stare out at tracer rounds unwinding through the dark like brilliant red ribbons (pg. 77).” “Like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference (pg. 77).” “War is like a ping pong ball. You could put a fancy spin on it, you could make it dance (pg. 31).” “Fear spreads like weeds (pg. 42).” He uses similes to describe certain people. “Greenies would…move like shadows through the moonlight (pg. 88)” “[Mary Anne] had a complexion like strawberry ice cream (pg. 89).” “All camouflaged up, they seemed to flow like water through the dark, like oil (pg. 109).”

O’Brien uses some metaphors sprinkled in his writing, but they don’t appear very often. There are perhaps 10 of them in the entire novel. “By midnight the field had turned into soup (pg. 139).” “The rain was the war and you had to fight it (pg. 156).” “Imagination was a killer (pg. 10).” All of these metaphors turn normally pleasant things into terrible things. The author is trying to persuade readers that this is the effect Vietnam has on everything: it turns the good into the bad.

The author is also a fan of personification, which is present whenever he goes into detail about Vietnam’s environment. He gives the natural aspects of Vietnam voices. “The crickets talk in code (pg. 195).” “The darkness squeezes you inside yourself (pg. 195).” “All of Vietnam

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was alive and shimmering (pg. 192).” “The trees talk politics, monkeys talk religion (pg. 71).” There are no allusions in The Things They Carried. As a whole, figurative language helps support the idea that the novel is a collection of stories. When one tells stories, they tend to exaggerate, which is what metaphors, similes, and personification are: an exaggeration.

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Ironic Devices

O’Brien uses many ironic devices in The Things They Carried. Because the events of Vietnam are bittersweet, there are many paradoxes. When the war began in the summer of 1968, many American questioned it because it was not a war of necessity, and this led to public uncertainty. “The only certainty that summer was moral confusion (pg. 38).” This paradox sheds light to the fact that many Americans were in a moral debate on whether or not ‘containing communism” was a good enough reason to send thousands of boys over to die in Nam. The author encourages his audience to disagree with the war, which is why he brings up the fact that it was a morally confusing war. After a battle, the soldiers would force themselves to stand and try to become soldiers again. They would feel guilty about the smell of death, they would feel grief. “It was the burden of being alive (pg. 18).” Sometimes the Alpha Company would not feel grief at all; once, they came into contact with a VC corpse, and his good buddy “Sanders…almost affectionately…used Kiowa’s hatchet to remove the thumb (pg. 13).” The fact that Mitchell Sanders would “affectionately” remove a human body part from a dead person is sickening, a grotesque paradox. These paradoxes are used to prove a point. They sound seemingly wrong at first glance: confusion is a certainty? Being alive is a burden? A thumb can be sliced off with affection? They all add to the bitter tone O’Brien uses to discuss the war.

O’Brien uses verbal, situational, and dramatic irony all a couple of times throughout his book. Verbally, he writes that when a buddy would draw the number 17 and have to crawl headfirst into the “tunnels, they’d notice how the flashlight seemed impossibly heavy and how it

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was tunnel vision in the strictest sense (pg. 10).” After Lavender died, the platoon would tell “stories about Lavender’s supply of tranquilizers, how the poor guy didn’t feel a thing, how incredibly tranquil he was (pg. 19).” These particular examples are a play on words, and the author uses them to show the Alpha Company’s sense of humor. O’Brien uses situational irony to discuss the tragedy of death. For example, Ted Lavender was a pothead. He used dope to calm his nerves, because he was scared. When he died, he was shot in the head, his brains escaping his scalp. Essentially he got his “mind blown (pg. 20)” one last time. O’Brien does this to create humor amidst his bitter tragedy of a novel. The author uses dramatic irony to discuss attributes of the characters. When Lieutenant Jimmy Cross becomes overcome with love for Martha, “he felt paralyzed, he wanted to sleep inside her lungs and breathe her blood and be smothered (pg.11).” This is quite a dramatic statement. The Lieutenant fears death and being smothered by a collapsing tunnel, and yet his love makes him wish to be “smothered” inside Martha. O’Brien writes this statement to prove how infatuated Jimmy Cross was with Martha. This statement explains, in short, why it was so difficult for the Lieutenant to get over her when she denied him. Another example of dramatic irony is that the Alpha Company “carried the soldiers’ greatest fear, the fear of blushing (pg. 20).” This statement is evidence to the fact that no matter how many dead bodies, necklaces made of human tongues (pg. 105), or near-death experiences soldiers have, their upmost fear is that their cheeks will turn pink in front of their friends. This is a sad tragedy. O’Brien writes this to help explain to his audience that shame was always the biggest incentive to go to war.

O’Brien uses many euphemisms in The Things They Carried to show how men in combat would attempt to lighten up the dismal mood Vietnam cast on them. Instead of saying that a man

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has been murdered by the Vietcong, they say that man has been “grease, offed, lit up, or zapped while zipping (pg. 16).” Instead of saying they almost got killed by a detonator, soldiers would good-naturedly slap each other on the back and joke “Rodger-Dodger, that almost cut me a new asswhole, almost (pg. 19).” There are no significant hyperboles, oxymorons, or understatements present in the novel.

The author uses ironic devices throughout the novel to balance out sad details with comedic statements. He uses them to show that even in the midst of combat, soldiers could have a sense of humor, and in fact required one to stay sane.

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O’Brien has a somber, bitter tone. He writes a war story the way a war story should be told: some facts, some exaggeration, all the sad details. War is not a happy subject matter, and the author does not write these war stories in a happy way. The plot itself is somber; a man comes home from the war in grief. The author’s choice of words with a negative connotation helps create the bitter tone through diction. He writes that soldiers had to squint into the “dense, oppressing sunlight (pg. 19).” In most literature, sunlight is a good omen; it is a sign of happiness and a new day. But here, O’Brien complains that the sunlight is “dense” and “oppressive.” He is trying to persuade the audience that Vietnam is full of evil; even the sunlight there is wicked. The author writes that the fog sometimes made things seem “hallow and unattached (pg. 17).” Fog is generally seen as having a mystical nature, but O’Brien says that it can cause isolation. He is attempting to argue that even something as heavenly as fog can cause one to feel alone. When he is infatuating over Martha, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross admits to his “dense, crushing love (pg.11)” for her. Throughout all of human history, love has been one of the most powerfully wonderful things in the entire world. Love can be described by almost any average person as simply magic. Yet, O’Brien describes it as “dense and crushing.” He tries to persuade readers that in Nam, even love can become something too heavy to carry; it too is poisonous. All of these negative connotations create a bitter tone.

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The author uses parallel structure to help create the tone. “It was rugged country, too. Not quite mountains, but rising fast, full of gorges and deep brush and places you could die (pg. 210).” In this example, O’Brien gives equal importance to the phrases “gorges”, “deep brush”, and “places you could die.” He is trying to put emphasis to the fact that places like Vietnam’s common gorges and brushes were common to death. Gorges and brushes are found everywhere in Nam. Death was everywhere in Nam. Going through the Batangan Peninsula, the soldiers come across a church. “The place was dark and cool, I remember, with crumbling walls and sandbagged windows and a ceiling full of holes (pg. 113).” The author gives equal importance do the church’s “crumbling walls”, “sandbagged windows”, and “ceiling full of holes.” The parallel structure emphasizes the ruin of the poor church. O’Brien declares that even a holy structure can be destroyed into bitter wreckage in Vietnam.

The author of The Things They Carried uses vivid imagery to add to his somber tone. When he grew afraid because he was drafted for the war, O’Brien writes that “down in my chest there was that leaking sensation, something very warm and precious spilling out (pg. 44).” He creates the image of a young man with his heart in his throat, worried so sick that his insides are leaky. This heartrending image adds to the somber tone. Figurative devices also help create the somber, bitter tone. Most of these devices are similes. “The main building…seemed to lean heavily to one side, like a cripple (pg. 45).” Even the buildings in Tim O’Brien’s world seem to be oppressed; they are handicapped and sag. “There was a dreamy edge of impossibility to it-like running a dead-end maze-no way out (pg. 44).” Tim is trapped inside himself, he is smothered by Nam. He is stuck. Both of these similes show how Tim has become suffocated. Everyday objects like buildings have become defeated. The author uses personification to help

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create the tone. “Monkeys chattered death (pg. 210).” Monkeys, seen as such an innocent animal, man’s brother, talk happily about dying in Vietnam. “The darkness squeezes you (p

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