Quotes from The Things They Carried

“By telling stories, you objectify your own experience.  You separate it from yourself.  You pin down certain truths.  You make up others.  You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.” (p. 158)

This quote is extremely meaningful to the text because it describes much of what Tim O’Brien has done in the book.  In a sense, he has taken incidents that he experienced in the war and made up other “truths” to clarify the point he wants to make.  It’s a great description of how his writing in The Things They Carried works, and perhaps provides insight into a potential coping mechanism.  I find it fascinating because perhaps O’Brien makes aspects of the story up in order to separate himself from the pain, guilt, or fear of what actually happened.


“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love.  War is nasty; war is fun.  War is thrilling; war is drudgery.  War makes you a man; war makes you dead."
The truths are contradictory.  It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque.  But in truth war is also beauty.  For all its horror, you can’t help but gape at the awful majesty of combat.” (p. 80)

This quote is pretty significant to the work as a whole because it really encompasses O’Brien’s mixed feelings about the war.  He doesn’t agree with the reason that he’s fighting in the war, yet at the same time he’s almost drawn to it because of it’s sheer immensity and scope.  This quote is interesting to me because it is such a clever, beautiful description of something that is terrible and has taken so many lives.  It captures many emotions that a soldier might go through during the course of war, and really allows the reader to gain a first person perspective of what war is like.  This excerpt carries a lot of power that is capable of drawing the reader into the story.

"They were tough. They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment...They did not submit to the obvious alternative, which was simply to close the eyes and fall...It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards." (p. 21-22)


This quote is significant for many reasons. First of all, it addresses the meaning of the title in a very symbolic way. The story "The Things They Carried" (within the novel with the longer name) is about physical things the soldiers carry, yes, but this quote represents something universal to the U.S. soldier experience of the Vietnam War. It really examines the morale and mentality that soldiers undergo in a very raw and candid way that does not exhibit the pretentious honor that some memoirs of other wars might be tempted to do. How many soldiers have died/killed just to avoid shame? The very morality of war is brought into question.
This quote emphasizes more than just the "soldier" experience, though; it emphasizes the human one, as well. It is inescapable to live within a society that constructs expectations for certain roles we must fill, regardless of choice. This universal exploration of humanity appeals to readers, and invites them to relate to all parts of the text in some way.