Analyzing the Things They Carried, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

This paper examines the paper ‘The things they carried’ by Tim O’Brien.  This is reviewed from the perspective of a psychological journey, thereby considering the psychological reasons that these artifacts were carried by the individuals concerned.  The objective being to understand the needs and importance of these articles and the psychological motivation behind them. Artifacts were important to soldiers and had both symbolic and personal meaning; these often having psychological significance.

First Lt. Jimmy Cross

The concept of a psychological journey refers to how certain behavioural conditions may be interpreted within the context of psychology.  In the case of Lt. Jimmy Cross he retained a number of artifacts including love letters and a lucky stone.

Background –  Lt Cross kept love letters from his girlfriend Martha. He kept these letters and read them in his foxhole in battle recess periods. He imagined that Martha loved him as much as he loved her but they were really only letters between friends.  He indulged in fantasy romance trips ; equally he was obsessive about the sexual virtues of Martha. The Lieutenant also carried things of necessity like Pocket knives, can openers, cigarettes, salt tablets etc.  The Lieutenant also carried a good luck pebble. He also had an entrenching tool which he used to dig foxholes with.  He also carried two photographs of Martha which he later burned.  The Lieutenant also carried his maps of the battle area which he noticed depicted the land as green and inviting.

Psychology –  The reality of war is hell with carnage and suffering all around you.  The letters from Martha helped to remind him of his youth and the love and compassion of another human being. It provided a degree of escapism from the brutal reality around him.  He could fantasise of being elsewhere with Martha.  This is a psychology of survival whilst trying to retain your sanity within an insane reality.  The sexual obsession towards Martha’s virginity was a sense of lust and desire that was denied him under battlefield conditions. The essential items being carried were also related to survival.  Many soldiers were superstitious during the war and held talisman or items of luck like St. Christopher’s Medallions, or in this case a pebble which helped to protect their luck in survival.

Ted Lavender

Background – Ted had been shot in the head earlier in the campaign and as a result carried around tranquilisers. In addition Ted carried around seven ounces of premium dope.  He was also heavily ladened with all his military attire including thirty five rounds of ammunition, further twenty pounds of ammunition, flak jacket, helmet, rations, water bottles and toilet paper. This it was felt added lots of dead weight and hampered his mobility leading to him eventually being shot and killed. He also carried the starlight scope that weighed over sixty three pounds

Psychology  –  Ted obviously suffered from severe headaches as a result of his previous head injury; this made him somewhat obsessive about his medications to the point of needing drugs and dope to help get him through.  An example of negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement was described by B.F. Skinner , under his theory of ‘Operant Conditioning’; here behaviour is strengthened by the removal of negative stimulus or outcomes. It is the concept of subtracting an adverse impact or affect from a situation e.g. before setting out to the beach you cover yourself in sun-screen in order to prevent sunburn from ultra violet radiation. The negative reinforce being that of sunburn. (Cherry).

Ted was obviously stressed out and became obsessive under the war conditions. This constant exposure of stress can also cause mental conditions that may result in compulsive obsessive behaviour and fear. In certain young adults this can lead towards substance abuse, excessive drinking, smoking etc. These paths result in destroying both self-esteem and confidence and may result in severe personality disorders. Ted carrying all of the excessive ammunition and weight showed a reaction to his previous mortality of being shot in the head.  He was now going to arm himself to the teeth in the will to survive and take the battle to the enemy.  It has been accepted that most types of psychological stress disorders are associated with emotional and physiological disorders. One of the most recognisable symptoms is that of sleep disorder i.e. sleeps apnea, delayed sleep phase syndrome and over sleeping.

Conclusions

The other soldiers carried around a variety of artefacts. Rat Kiley carried around comics, Norman Bowker carried a diary, the RTO carried around a Bible. Most of the men had jungle boots and Dave Jenson obsessed about the number of socks he had and the need to carry foot powder.  A common theme emerged from the things that were carried.  In one sense they were either related to personal survival and as such considered as necessities for each of the men. Thinks like cigarettes and bottle openers that helped provide some degree of solace in their miserable surroundings.  Others were related to personal talisman or omens that helped to provide comfort and keep them safe from the enemy.  The RTO carrying the Bible and the Lieutenant with his lucky pebble.

The story was centered on the horrors of the Vietnam War and the soldiers that fought in this horrific killing field.

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