The Things They Carried

thethingstheycarriedI’m going to post a few papers sporadically that I wrote in my Modern American Fiction class this past semester analyzing specific parts of different books because…it’s my blog and I can do what I want!


When Ted Lavender dies in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Jimmy Cross blamed himself entirely although Lavender and the rest of the soldiers were also contributors for him being shot through the head.  Jimmy Cross mainly blamed himself since he was the lieutenant and had responsibility over his men, however at the time he was also looking for a reason to start hating Martha.  Although he was definitely distracted by thoughts of her, he was also concentrating a lot on how he knew she did not love him.  He did not even know or understand much about this woman who he supposedly loved – “He wanted to know her.  Intimate secrets: why poetry?  Why so sad?  Why that grayness in her eyes?” (12)  It was more of a lust or crush on her that he created into a larger affair after Lavender’s death.  He basically had to commit to loving her after that because if it ended up being just a crush that eventually dissipated, then his guilt would be even more intense and everyone would not have any pity for him.  In his situation after the war, Jimmy Cross is in the position where people might feel bad for him because, although he had supposedly aided in Lavender’s death through his neglect and wandering mind, he also will then have to suffer with his love for Martha which has never been reciprocated.

“He realized she did not love him and never would” (17).  Through his frustrations Jimmy Cross now needed a reason to hate her since love was having no effect on her.  With Lavender’s death he had a perfect reason to blame her now – it was Martha’s fault that he was distracted because she made it so that he could never stop thinking of her.  Regardless of the fact that he had probably left for war with this infatuation and simply had no one else to think about became void after this death.  He would now have to carry it with him for the rest of his life to justify something that probably would not have lasted after he returned from the war anyway.  And since Lavender was not able to return again, Lieutenant Cross was in a position where he would have to feel a pain that he would also never be able to return from.

However, Lavender and the other men were all equal contributors to this death in addition to Jimmy Cross.  While Lavender was walking back from going to the bathroom, he was facing all the other soldiers who were in positions similar to Cross and who could have called out to him as well.  It is not fair to say that since Jimmy Cross was thinking about Martha that therefore he was being neglectful towards his men and is fully to blame.  There are reasons separate which caused them to not respond to the situation until it was too late as well – others may have been daydreaming about a woman also, but since Jimmy Cross was the lieutenant he immediately fell into the focus of blame.  Of course if he had been paying closer attention he may have been able to prevent it, but even still the situation could have been so that paying attention to the moment might not have made Lavender’s death unavoidable.  If the shooter was hidden to the men, for example, then no one would have been able to help.  Lavender might also have been trying to bring upon his own death.  “Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April” (4).  It can be asserted that he took the drugs so he could let himself become more comfortable with the idea of dying.  He was scared of war and feared the worst repercussions of it; therefore he took tranquilizers and dope to avoid having to deal with the reality of the situation in front of him.  He had to find a way to be comfortable with dying since he was constantly exposing himself to situations where there was a good chance that he might die anyway.  It could also have been an intentional plan of escape for Lavender if he really hated being in the war and could not fathom life after Vietnam.  Although taking the drugs relieved him of the fear of death that he had, it also made him more irresponsible and less alert, which is a common effect of drugs and one he would have realized after taking them one or two times.  Although he was aware of these effects, he kept up the usage and depended on them to clear his mind and alleviate himself of the pressures of warfare.  When Ted Lavender was unable to deal with the harsh reality of war, he took drugs as an escape and made himself into an irresponsible person who was more comfortable with the idea of death.  This led to the lifelong guilt that Jimmy Cross would carry since he was using Martha as his own sort of drug to escape the war and become more comfortable with death; one drug was more acceptable than the other, especially where rank was concerned.

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