???The Things They Carried???
Jimmy Cross is a protagonist because the story is about him dealing with the loss of his
friend Tim Lavender. Cross is a lieutenant of the Alpha Company fighting the war in Vietnam. He does not care about the war and he does not want to be a leader . Jimmy is insecure about everything he does and he wonders if he makes the right decisions. His way of escaping is to day dream about Martha. She is an English major at Mount Sebastian, New Jersey and she sends him photos and letters regularly. She writes poetry letters and never mentions the war. Her letters are very friendly, full of all her activities and details of her life. She always signs her letters ???Love Martha???(p.315), but she is not in love with him. He know this but dreams of her and him in a relationship. He carries Martha??™s letters with him in a backpack and looks at them every night while dreaming about how his life could be with her intimately. He carries a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a pistol. You want to be able to fight back especially if your life is in danger. I think Cross should have been paying more attention to his men, but instead he was daydreaming about Martha. It reveals that he was selfish because he cared more about her, than his men. Cross had a lot of responsibilities as a lieutenant and he was not doing his job. He was endangering the lives of his men by having Martha on his mind too much. ???But his love was too much for him, he felt paralyzed, he wanted to sleep inside of her lungs and breathe her blood and be smothered.??? (p.318) This means that he wanted to be really close to her and that he could not get her off his mind. Cross really cared about Martha and wanted to be with her. He was always thinking about her and pretending they were together. He fantasized about being with her intimately. He was in love with her. ???Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps.??? (p.316) The men referred to ???humping it??? when they carried something. But there was an underlying implication of it being part of carrying burdens.
During one of their patrols, one of the men Lavender was killed. Lavender was a very tranquil guy because he took tranquilizers and smoked dope all the time. At the time of his death Cross was thinking of Martha like the twenty-two year old he was, instead of taking care of security. When Lavender died he was wearing twenty pounds of ammunition, a jacket, helmet, food , water, toilet paper, tranquilizers and dope. They stripped off all of his ammo and canteens. He was dead weight. They wrapped Lavender in his poncho and called a helicopter to come take him away. As they waited for the helicopter they smoked Lavender??™s dope. They made jokes about Ted??™s tranquilizer abuse and commented that he probably didn??™t feel pain when he was shot. Lavender had so much anxiety so used tranquilizers and dope to help calm him down. Because he was under so many drugs, he may have not been paying enough attention and that is why he got shot. Cross leads his men to the village of Than Khe. The soldiers burned everything, like trying to destroy the village will help the hurt from Lavender??™s death. They really push that day before they stop for the night. Cross starts digging his foxhole furiously, trying to hide his emotions from everyone. But they all knew.
???After a time Kiowa sighed. One thing for sure, he said. The Lieutenant??™s in some deep hurt. I mean that crying jag-the way he was carrying on-it wasn??™t fake or anything, it was real heavy-duty hurt. The man cares.??? (p.320) The men that Cross was responsible for knew that he cared for them. He felt that he was distracted by Martha, but he must have been doing his job to some extent. The men used many physiological tricks to handle the stress of the war. ???They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness. Greased, they??™d say. Offed, lit up, zapped while zipping. It wasn??™t cruelty just stage presence.???
(p.321) They were actors and the war was the stage. It helped them to keep their emotions in check and to make things like killing and dieing not feel so close.
After Lavenders death, Cross decides to burn Martha??™s letters and photos. I think he did this to relieve his guilt. It didn??™t make much difference because he had the pictures in is head. Perhaps it was part of his new resolve to start anew and be all that he could be for his men. He plans to himself how he will be a better leader and help his men have more discipline to help their success and safety in the future. The men will complain about the renewed discipline but Cross commits to stand firm. Cross believes that he was negligent in Lavender??™s death because he had been fantasying about Martha.
In The Things They Carried, Tim O??™Brien brings out many details of the life in Vietnam. It was an emotional rollercoaster to live in hell day by day. Never knowing if you would be alive at sun up the next day and wondering if you would have to kill someone else to be there.
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