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The Things They Carried - What Weighs More?

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Essay title: The Things They Carried - What Weighs More?

What Weighs More?

A Demonstrative Essay on

“The Things They Carried”

By Tim O’Brien

In his story "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien describes a group of soldiers marching through Vietnam. He does this by describing the items that each of them carries with him during the march. The things that the soldiers carry with them are both physical and emotional items. What they carried varied from man to man. They carry the basic "necessities" for survival (if you can consider such things as M&M's a necessity) and the bare minimum to make life as livable as possible. But they also carry memories, and fears, and it the emotional items like these that are the main focus of the story. The weight of the emotional items is as real as that of any physical ones, and unlike those physical objects, they are not so easily cast away.

Throughout the story, O'Brien changes between common conversations between the soldiers to simple descriptions of the items that the soldiers are carrying. This division points out the things the men are carrying, both physical and emotional, without downplaying the story. In the parts of the story that O’Brien describes the items carried he is very exact in his descriptions and seems to be listing ordinary items the soldiers needed to complete different missions. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, first lieutenant and platoon leader carried “a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45(c) caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds full loaded (paragraph 5)."

O'Brien gives only straightforward descriptions in these parts of the story and the writing does not show any feeling toward these items. When describing the emotional things, however, the writing is a lot more in tune with the emotions of the characters. "Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps”. The author describes in great detail the first time Cross touches Martha’s knee in a dark theater and she “ turned and looked at him in a sad sober way… he will always remember the feel of that tweed skirt.” O'Brien's writing shows much more emotion in these parts and adds a lot of weight for the reader. This contrast in style is necessary to give emphasis to the mental things that the men carried rather than the physical things.

One thing O'Brien does frequently in describing the items is to tell how much it weighs. "The weapon weighed 7.5 pounds unloaded, 8.2 pounds with its full 20 round magazine. The riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20 magazines...adding on another 8.4 pounds at minimum, 14 pounds at maximum” (paragraph 8). This gives the reader an idea of the burden that the men are bearing in carrying these things. A lot of attention is given to the weight and pressure the soldiers feel from what they're carrying and from other things, such as nature. "They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere...they carried gravity” (paragraph 22). However the greatest weight the men feel comes from nothing they can physically carry, but rather their emotions. Grief, terror, love, humility, these emotions had their own mass and specific gravity; they had emotional weight which will far surpass the weight of any tangible object.

These emotional burdens are the heaviest because they are mental and therefore the men cannot get rid of them. Physical weight, if necessary can be discarded. On the other hand emotional weight cannot be easily rid of. It is always carried with you in the back of your mind. O'Brien, speaking of this weight in particular, says, "In many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never

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