Using Reader-Response Literary Theory to O`Brien .T (1990) The Things They Carried.


In the story, by O`Brien, “The Things They Carried” The title illustrates the major theme of the story, things carried during the Vietnam War, both emotional and physical. The protagonist sets the stage by showing the events that took place a midst his Vietnam experience. The narrator describes what Lieutenant carried, “letters from a girl named Martha” (O`Brien, 2017). They carried physical war tools like morphine, M&M Candy, and matches. Others tagged along with intangibles which include fear and guilt. O`Brien also introduces the characters by the things they carried. He states, “Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra ratios” (O`Brien, 2017). He further stresses on the weight of what they carried to bring the impact of the burdens carried on the fight during the war. Though the narration may appear to be works of fiction, much of the writing is a reality of the happenings during a war most of which, I have experienced. The experience I have in combat situations makes the use of Reader-Response literary theory easy to apply in the reading of O`Brien Fiction story, “The Things They Carried.” At the break point of the war, most of the warriors think of the physical tools they may need during the war and how they will fight in the war. Often the intangibles which include thoughts of loved ones, religious values, and beliefs are equally carried though only recognized by the individuals bearing the burden. An accurate picture of the war like situation.


The author has used similes to bring out the comparison of various things using the words “like, and or.” He explains, Kiowa kept telling how the poor guy dropped like so much concrete” (O`Brien, 2017). These are to give the picture of how the man fell. He also uses metaphors to have a comparison of something to that which it is not. The protagonist states, “The un weighed fear” (O`Brien, 2017). He may have used the expression to bring a cross the fear that the soldiers had without physically identifying with it. Equally, the use of symbolism comes out of the things they carried. The letters Lieutenant carried stands for the emotional burdens. The other men also took items that kept them emotionally attached to their beliefs. One of them has his lover`s stockings tied around his neck, some carry condoms, while others had their bibles. The picture of what the soldiers take during the war some of which are never visible are brought out through the symbols.  


O`Brien has a humorous way of bringing out the sad picture of the war like situation using the literary devices. It brings out a mixture of pity and humor. Picturing the soldiers carry heavy burdens of the clothing of their loved ones to war a journey which they may never return from makes me fantasize with the soldiers as I read on. Very interesting they carry a burden of emotions which they may never express.


I enjoy the novel because it brings out how war is: terror, adventure, and mystery. It also brings a combination of courage, religious feelings, love, and despair which form a part of war though they are never considered vital. It`s fun to go to war, it`s thrilling, at the same time it`s nasty and drudgery. War gives the feeling of achievement. War also kills. The narrator states,” a place where men died…” (O`Brien, 2017) “War” mystery, though it has no symbol of happiness, people crave for it and go after it.  While going through O`Brien writing, the expression of the actual war brings me the feeling of anxiety, pleasure, nervousness, and sorrow, the exact sentiment I go through whenever there is war. According to me, the art of Tim is not only a fiction but also a true depiction of war.


O`Brien, T. (2017). The Things They Carried Chapter 1. Retrieved from

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