Going to war or battlefield is not easy as one might think. The soldiers who get on the journey to go to war undergo various and diverse challenges; that ranges from wild animal attacks in the jungle to surprise enemy's attacks at night. As OBrien explores in his novel The Things they carried going to war is not simple because everyone is an enemy except the team members. Through the novel, we get to understand the experiences of that the soldiers who go to war normally experiences or go through. Imagination is one of the techniques that OBrien has widely explored in the novel. Through the characters, Lieutenant cross and his team members, we get to understand how imagination has been used in the novel and it effects. Again through the characters, we get to understand the characters traits of the various characters. In this paper, I will analyze how imagination concept has been explored in the novel The Things they Carried by Tim OBrien.
OBrien has employed the concept of imagination in the novel through the characters that he has used. Through the experiences that the characters pass through while in the journey to war we get to understand the concept of imagination. Some of the experiences that characters go through are explained through their imaginations. For example, Lieutenant Cross is one of the main characters in the novel that undergoes through various emotional conflicts that are only revealed through his imaginations. Lieutenant Cross is in love with Martha, a lady he is not sure whether she loves him or not; but through the imaginations that go on his mind while he is in the jungle we get to understand his feelings towards Martha. Lieutenant Cross is not sure whether Martha is in love with him and this exposes him to a depression that consumes his attention. He loses attention to his team; he never pays attention to his leadership responsibility because he is submerged into the fantasies and an imagination of a lady he is assumed to be in love with him. For example, he normally carries the pictures of Martha wherever he goes and always imagines of how the girl feels about him. For instance, the author explains that at dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter (OBrien, pg. 11).
OBrien presents soldiers who are submerged into the world of imagination and they are no longer in control of their emotions. According to Tobey Herzog, Soldiers escape into their imagination through daydreams and war stories.such control gained through these mind games is fleeting, however (Tim OBrien, 119). OBrien has managed to depict the psychological conflict that characters like Lieutenant Cross have when it comes to the emotional issues. Through the conflict, we get to understand the struggle that they go through trying to establish control of their emotional lives. The lives of the characters presented in the novel indicate the struggle life that soldiers go through while in the jungle as they try to keep themselves alive. As the characters explain, in the jungle there is no ones friend and the only person whom one can depend on as a friend is the team member. Therefore, OBrien presents us with characters who are struggling to keep themselves alive on the battlefield because there is no one else to give them the motivation and encouragement. Every one of the soldiers carried with him or herself that could help him or her think of the reasons that they should stay alive on the battlefield. Lieutenant Cross always carried with him the pictures of Martha. However, some of the soldiers carried with them the things they imagined that can keep them safe while they are in the field. For example, the rabbits foot that Dave Jensen carried with him always helped him believe that he would be safe in the field.
Tim OBrien is an author who is well known for his effortless attempt to reveal the experiences that the soldiers and the war victims go through in his works. The author has portrayed the use of imagination to show the isolation and desire for consolation by most of the characters. OBrien has presented characters who are isolated from their own lives and their loved ones and the only way they think they can remain in touch with them is to give themselves the reasons as to why they should always fight to remain alive. Although, they believe that whatever they carry with them in the field can keep them safe, but this is not true. Robert McNamara believes that belief and seeing are both often wrong (Fog of War). The characters hold the beliefs that the superstitious objects that they carry with them to the war will keep them safe. What Robert McNamara explains is that people might be holding on to their imaginations and the things that they think might help keep them safe; however, the truth is that such things do not help them. OBrien has portrayed the kinds of isolation that the soldiers are exposed to when they go to war. The narrator in the novel explains the kind of things that the soldiers carried with them hoping to keep them safe. For example, the narrator explains that when they went to the mountains, they carried things that they think could keep them safe such as mosquito nets and painkiller drugs. Additionally, the narrator further explains the kinds of ammunitions that they carried; the huge and heavy machine guns with the hope that they would be safe. As Robert McNamara explains, what one believe and imagines to be true might not actually turn out to be the truth (Fog of War). The belief to carry huge machine guns with the hope of being safe that also turns out to be wrong when some of the team members like Ted Lavender are killed on the battlefield. They believed that with the ammunitions that they carried they would be safe; but as it turns out when the members start to die because all the things that they carried to give them the hope to be safe are no longer keeping them safe as they wished.
OBrien has also depicted the isolation that the characters find themselves in when they go to war. The kind of loneliness that they go through is sometimes unbearable to some of them; for example, Lieutenant Cross cannot take the fact that the lady he is in love with is not in love with him. When he imagines that Martha might be in love with another person it pains him that he regrets the reason as to why he even loved her in the fast place. Lieutenant Cross imagines that it is because of the love of Martha that he no longer concentrates with the responsibility of leading the team in war. He imagines that it is the same reason of Martha that leads to his team members death. OBrien depicts how the imaginations of the characters in the novel control their emotions and actions.
According to OBrien characters exercise their imaginations because they believe that it might assist them to find out the truth (CLC 137). As portrayed in the novel, Lieutenant Cross with his team members imagines that the death of their fellows should not go in vain. Therefore, they decide to exercise their imagination that they should go ahead and avenge Ted Lavenders death. Lieutenant Cross is guided by his imagination that is filled with rage; they attacked the village and destroyed everything. OBrien portrays the characters in the novel as people who cannot accept the reality of the circumstances. The team led by Lieutenant Cross refuses to accept that in war there have to be damaged and as a soldier one can kill or get killed. All the possibilities must be accepted; however, as OBrien presents the characters none of them is able and ready to accept the truth.
In conclusion, OBrien portrays imagination as a useful factor that influences the characters actions and behaviors. Accepting the truth is a great challenge for the characters as OBrien has successfully managed to depict through the novel. The imaginations of the characters help us understand the experiences that they undergo in the war zones.
Herzog, Tobey C. Tim O'Brien. Twayne's United States Authors Series, No. 691. Ed.
Frank Day. Twayne Publishers: New York, 1997
O'Brien, Tim. The things they carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
The Fog of War. Dir. Errol Morris. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2003."Tim O'Brien." Contemporary Literary Criticism (LCL). Vol. 103. Ed. Deborah A. Smith. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998, pp. 130-143, pp. 158-163, pp. 168-177.
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