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The Concept and Antilogy of Necessity in The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O Brien, a medley of short stories tied together by a common theme, examines the many facets of necessity and poses a question of just how valuable the things we hold to be necessities really are. During the confusion of war, the definition of necessity becomes rather slippery in the minds of the soldiers and in such desperate situations, a soldier may find himself holding on to all he can. Despite the fact that these objects may hurt the soldier or bring him to his demise, letting go of such articles is very difficult. The late Ted Lavender, whose death is only a memory throughout the book, is one of those men. When he was shot, the enormous amount of weight he was carrying at the time, the fear in his heart, and the weight of the bullet caused him to collapse instantaneously. Symbolically, the act of falling relates to the weight causing his ultimate downfall – death.

The Things They Carried exhibits necessity in its advantageous aspects as well as its disadvantageous ones. It examines the burdens of each individual and the effects that the burdens have on the person in given situations. O Brien deliberately makes the reader consider what constitutes a necessity by packing his story with heavy irony; a weight that sends conflicting images to the reader and causes him/her to examine the realms of necessity. The reader can go further and apply this distinction between real necessity and something that just provides emotional sustenance to his/her own life.

The thing they carried were largely determined by necessity,” (2). The most important necessities can be easily argued as those of survival, and to establish their importance, these necessities appear first in the story. But in the descriptive account of the Alpha Company s soldiers necessities, comic books and drugs are placed in the same paragraph. They are masked as necessities and placed on almost the same level as food and weapons. This defines the intense pressures of war on men. Perhaps the men feel emptiness which drives them to think that they need the extra accessories, which have nothing to do with survival, in order to fill the emotional void caused by the atrocities of war. The entire first chapter consists of the objects and emotions that these men would carry on a daily basis; things that they would bear, no matter how ironic they may be, in order to ensure the survival of their bodies, minds, spirits, and sanities.

The vast majority of weapons is a necessity among the troops and indicates the need to kill by any possible means. O Brien makes this point clear by going into minute detail of each weapon. “They carried all that they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.” (9)

Perhaps the greatest load of all, that the men feel necessary to carry, is the weightless, internal load called dignity. There is an unspoken need to stay tough buried among the men and not letting the numbingly horrific violence of the war break through to the surface. At the most dangerous times, this would show, but it would not last long for the men would quickly cover it up. They would do this by looking at death in a humorous way as if to destroy the reality of death itself” (19-20).

Sometimes, the men would kill and die because they were embarrassed not to. They would only allow themselves to dream of freedom, not really considering it as a possibility, for those who would take the easy way out by injuring themselves, were looked upon with contempt. This is despite some traces of jealousy that remain inside them. These descriptions may give the illusion that these internal burdens the men carry are keeping them alive, are necessary. Yet, in light of Lavender s death, this could hardly be the case.

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