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Book Analysis

The Significance Of The Title “The Things They Carried” - Shreya Sachdev

The meaning behind the title of the novel, The Things They Carried, is an interesting one to analyze. There are many interpretations and in the following blog post, I will be sharing what I believe is the meaning behind this title. First of all, I believe that most people tend to imagine soldiers who fight in the war as always carrying heavy armor, backpacks, and weapons. Whilst this might be true, the majority of this novel revolves around what the men in the war carry emotionally. For example, in the chapter of “Stockings” Dobbins wears his girlfriend’s underwear around his neck, and what I believe is the significance of what he’s carrying is not specifically the underwear itself, but is the smell and the comfort of his girlfriend. Therefore, the way that Dobbins is able to get through the war is by thinking about his girlfriend and having a way to escape from reality for a little while.

Right in the introduction, the reader learns about Jimmy Cross’ love for Martha, and learns that he continued to think about her when he was at war. Therefore, like Dobbins, Jimmy Cross carries Martha in his heart because it gives him a feeling of safety and comfort - a way to escape the reality of war and the trauma that he faces.

In the chapter of “Spin” the reader learns that Henry Dobbins and Norman Bowker play checkers every night, and Tim O’Brien continues to say that in checkers everyone knew where they stood, that there was a clear winner and loser, and that there were rules. I believe that the reason as to why Henry Dobbins and Norman Bowker played this every night was because this was there escape from reality, and they were able to imagine a world in which war wasn’t so hectic and all over the place, but rather had rules and was fair in every aspect. Therefore, by playing checkers, the men are able to get through the war because it gives them an escape from reality. Henry Dobbins and Norman Bowker carry a sense of hope within themselves to get through the war.

It is also interesting how the title of the book is in past tense, and I believe there’s a specific reason for this. I believe that the tense of the title is not necessarily a criticism of what people believe, but simply reflects what Tim O’Brien assumes about the war: He assumes that people think that soldiers forget about the trauma and conflict endured quite quickly, since they remember that they have a job to do. However, the entire novel revolves around how the characters do not get over the war at all, and instead keep on remembering the emotions they felt during the war. Therefore, the tense of the title is ironic.


Shreya Sachdev