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In “The Things They Carried,” the Soldiers Carry Tangible and Intangible Things. Discuss How Physical and Mental/Emotional Burdens Impact the Soldiers.

During combat operations, soldiers grapple with heavy physical burdens that weigh heavily on their well-being and mental health. Though soldiers are required to transport various supplies, including food, water, weapons and ammunition, their body weight mainly bears down upon them most significantly. Carrying extra weight compared to their non-combat load takes a hefty toll on the soldier’s muscles, causing immense pain and extreme fatigue from exhaustion. After that, eventual disillusionment sets in, leaving them hopeless (Currier and Holland 5). Nevertheless, these actual weights are an essential element for survival within dangerous conflict zones where personal guns’, bullets count, along with other varied gear become the vital defining factors critical for each moment of each day. This essay seeks to show how war’s physical, mental, and emotional tolls have a significant and lasting effect on the soldiers, as seen by the tangible items they carry, the intangible tolls they endure, and the intricate relationships between the two.

The iconic novel “The Things They Carried” vividly portrays the overwhelming load shouldered by soldiers during combat operations, delving into both physical and mental burdens they face during wartime. In this work, O’Brien explores in detail the visceral experiences of battle-weary personnel burdened with hefty supplies across dangerous environments (O’Brien 49). In this book, troops face an arduous physical burden beyond description. Heavy backpacks, helmets, flak jackets, and weapons represent reminders of grueling tasks performed under harsh conditions. With meticulous precision, while documenting heavy loads exceeding 100 pounds borne by these valiant souls strengthened with a keen sensitivity for detail, including muscle aches related to carrying such tremendous amounts of gear, readers empathize with his characters’ discomfort on every page turn throughout this story arch, which depicts service people experiencing wear-and-tear from the loads they carry (O’Brien 57). Each step represents a taxing exercise, sapping energy that exhausts soldiers. Throughout the narrative, O’Brien illustrates how this substantial weight quickly exacts a considerable toll on the individual’s physical abilities, waxing poetic about pain, fatigue and many more limiting factors that, in reflection, characterize contemporary warfare.

Moreover, it is worth pointing out that substantial burdens carried by soldiers serve as concrete symbols alluding to survival skills exercised while fighting on battlefields successfully. Arguably speaking, the personal weapons and ammunition capabilities alongside gear employed by military personnel form an integral part reflecting every person’s reliance on this singular object-focused composite safety machinery self-defense mechanism (Currier and Holland 10). In other words, every soldier meticulously chooses equipment reflective of his/her reliance on specific tangible objects essential to thriving during combat scenarios leading to life-or-death situations. Also noteworthy is that individual weapons’ total weight symbolizes perspective force-feebleness indicative of every soldier’s effectiveness – correlating directly with the responsibility shouldered after engaging in lethal-force-driven activities.

Soldiers often bear intangible burdens that inflict deep wounds upon them. Their mental and emotional weight outweighs their physical loads by far. Guilt is one such intangible burden that haunts soldiers as they try to make sense of moral dilemmas that arise from their actions during combat situations or fallout, afterward such as the death of comrades or other costs associated with making hard choices in wartime contexts. These haunting memories may linger long after wars end – creating an invisible weight on each character generated from internal conflicts such as trauma sustained while serving in combat zones (Currier and Holland 10). Even those who remain alive find themselves emotionally drained under intense pressure from constant guilt shadows born by difficult decisions faced daily during conflict zones affecting survivors’ long-term, giving them challenges beyond just physical repair when adjusting back to civilian life and society at large. Even though they attempt to maintain composure and bravery, survivors suffer from a deep sense of guilt, knowing that others did not make it back alive. They cannot accept this guilt – a tragedy that haunts them for life. In portraying how soldiers resort to absurd means as a way out, O’Brien highlights this emotional trauma vividly. Apart from this mental anguish, wars also leave behind a physical scar in terms of destruction and violence on innocent people, including women and children, during non-combat situations in Vietnam described by the author (O’Brien 96). Desolate hamlets symbolize human conflict’s catastrophic consequences throughout history, painting an unenviable picture. Through such vivid writings, O’Brien infers on themes like futility or perplex suitability, highlighting detrimental outcomes wars cause directly or otherwise.

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest intangible burdens troops face is fear – a pervasive mood that affects each person differently. In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried novel, each soldier experiences formidable fears that are tangible enough to render normal coping more challenging than usual during wartime experience. For example, Jimmy Cross feels immense guilt for his affection towards Martha, which he finds hard to protect amidst war (O’Brien 38). Meanwhile, Henry Dobbins’ greatest worry is death itself. Unfortunately, since these fears cannot be wished away, they become an integral part of these soldiers’ everyday existence; unless dealt with consciously, they can leave one immobilized (Currier and Holland 8). As such, challenges on anxiety upon anxiety while also worrying over matters as basic as survivability create ever-present background noise. Through this novel, the author clarifies how fear takes root in people’s mindsets controlling them and determining actions.

In times of battle, our actions are often defined by what we carry along: physical objects or deeply ingrained thoughts and feelings. Such was true with every man in this instance- each soldier’s possessions held purpose or tremendous sentimental value. For Father Mulcahy, it was his crucifix, whereby its mere presence kept him mindful of God’s benevolence in troubling times (O’Brien 156). Similar sentiments rang true for Jimmy Cross when it came to carrying pictures of Martha – although at first burdened by guilt regarding his fondness for her – it eventually helped him come to terms with her presence at such turbulent times (O’Brien 38). Over time spent serving out on those bleak fields- one thing became evident to all of them: what they carry holds a significant emotional and psychological impact that shapes their behavior and actions.

Exploring the intricate layers of responsibility loaded onto soldiers during their service time, the book showcases how material possessions required to operate in combat operations effectively can also have lasting impacts on the soldiers’ well-being. Along with these physical loads come equally significant immaterial weights, such as trauma, shame or fear which further aggravate an already stressful situation. The author focuses on illuminating how these burdens (physical or emotional) have long come to influence soldiers’ experiences and define their lives even long after they leave behind military life (O’Brien 105). This powerful examination challenges readers to fully explore understanding wars’ consequences on those who face their daily tolls – both tangible and intangible – by examining what’s involved physically and mentally while exploring deep-seated connections between each factor.

Work Cited

Currier, Joseph M., and Jason P. Holland. “Examining the Role of Combat Loss among Vietnam War Veterans.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, vol. 25, no. 1, Wiley-Blackwell, Feb. 2012, pp. 102–05.

O’Brien Tim. The Things They Carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 1990.


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