The Things They Carried

Posted: October 17th, 2013






Final Paper

The Things They Carried

People have different experiences of the war, and these experiences can determine how they behave and make decisions later on in life, even long after the war has ended. O’Brien relates the experiences that the soldiers go through, in his stories in the book, The Things They Carried”. The theme of war is evident in the book. O’Brien sets his book during the Vietnam War, and he tells some of the things that the soldiers went through during the war. He tells of a soldier who shot himself in the foot to avoid fighting in the war. His book contains themes such as struggle and personal conflict that the soldiers go through because of the war (O’Brien, 82). Some of the soldiers find it hard to cope with daily challenges of the war. These struggles range from the less serious, such as the difficulty of working a reversed schedule, which requires the soldiers to sleep during the day and to move at night, to the more serious ones, such as the psychological problems that the soldiers go through after the war (O’Brien, 156-159). O’Brien stories include the theme of friendship developed during the war, as the soldiers interact with each other, and help each other during tough situations. He portrays the soldiers as social beings, who have families and who time to share and experience love. He portrays their human nature, showing their bravery as well as their cowardly nature and their fears (O’ Brien, 190-206).

A Piece of My Heart

The struggles and challenges facing the soldiers in O’Brien’s stories are different from the struggles facing the women involved in the war. Shirley Lauro illustrates this in her book, “A Piece of My Heart. “ The women have to deal with prejudice and negative perceptions that people have of women in the war. The women participated in one of the most unpopular wars. The fact that most of them were not fighting in the war directly, added to the negative perceptions that most of the women experienced. Some people did not find it necessary for the women to participate in the war. The theme of change is evident in the play. Before the women went to war, they had no prior experience of the war. They were naïve of the violence they would encounter (Lauro, 56-64). The war exposed them to the horrors that the soldiers went through, and by the time the women were leaving the war, they had gained much experience. They knew more about the war, and their characters and perceptions concerning the war changed. They felt that they had made a great contribution to the soldiers, and to the country.

The theme of compassion is evident in the story. This is especially seen in the case with the nurses, and other volunteers who have to take care of the wounded and dying soldiers. To the soldiers, the nurses represent hope because they know they will receive compassion and the care they need to recover. The nurses have to go through with the ordeal of seeing some of their patients succumb to their injuries (Lauro, 78). This is especially frustrating to the nurses, but they do not get discouraged. Instead, they continue taking care of the wounded soldiers. In addition, they experience stress because of the traumatic experiences they face in the war. The play presents the women as people with social lives despite the challenges they are experiencing. Like O’Brien, Lauro shows the readers the social lives of the women, as they interact with each other and with the soldiers, forming friendship, and falling in love. This shows that there is more to war than just engaging in battle.

Never Let Me Go

The theme of friendship exists even in the most unlikely places. Other than the war, this theme is present in the lives of the three friends in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Kathy Tommy and Ruth show their friendship even as they face an unusual situation in their clone lives. They realize the fate that awaits them as they await the completion, which is the ultimate end of their existence. This friendship develops to infatuation and love. Kathy and Tommy share a closer bond, and they love each other. However, they only get the chance to express their love, once Ruth lets go of Tommy and confesses to them the efforts she took to separate them. The desire to have friends in the artificial place they lived in, led Ruth to using whatever means she could to keep Kathy and Tommy’s friendship. The three friends face challenges and struggles of trying to remain friends among the conflicting situation they face, such as the girls love interest in one man.

The book contains the themes of power and authority. It illustrates how powerful and authoritative leaders can determine the direction of other people’s lives. The author illustrates this in the book, as he tells of the government’s decision to create the clone, and abandon them after use, not realizing that the clones are human, and that they have souls and feelings. The government has the power to do as it wishes, and it does not care that the clones have developed their own lives, as they have grown older (Ishiguro, 99). Another theme present in the book is death. The clones realize they have to come to an ultimate end, which they call completion. They live to die, as they donate organs at different times. For some clones such as Tommy, they are fortunate enough to donate up to the fourth time. Other clones such as Ruth are not so fortunate, and they realize their completion sooner than they had anticipated. Whichever way the clones live, and regardless of the decisions they make in life, they all realize that their destiny in life was to exist for a limited time, as long as the original humans determined their existence (Ishiguro, 145-198).

The Handmaid’s Tale

The themes of power and authority, and how those who have it can abuse it to the detriment of the less powerful in the society are present in Margaret Atwood’s story, The Handmaid’s Tale.” Both “Never Let Me Go” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” are dystopian novels, containing elements of science fiction. The author highlights the power and authority that the men in the society have, and how they use these attributes to demean and destroy the women in their lives. They use their power to deny the women their rights, and to suppress and oppress them. The theme of religion is present in the book. The men use religion to justify their actions towards women. They use the Christian doctrine, which asserts that women need to multiply and fill the earth. However, they are not interested in observing other parts of the doctrine, but only that which serves their purpose and which helps them justify their actions. Other references to the Bible include the name given to the center, i.e. the Rachael and Leah center, and the reference to the African Americans and the Jews, who are referred to as the children of Ham and sons of Jacob respectively. Rachael, Leah, Jacob, and Ham are characters in the Bible’s Old Testament (Atwood, 58-132).

The themes of subjugation and servitude are present in the book. Women live for the pleasure of men. Women exist for the sake of having children and fertile women are important, in a land where infertility and childlessness is on the increase. They do not engage in sex for pleasure, but for procreation. Sexual pleasure is illegal, as Offred realizes. However, some of the women are stubborn and are willing to take risks. The government has created a system where women cannot dream of fame or even have the freedom of independence and privacy. They are forced to live in indignity, as the case of Serena, who has to watch as her husband has sex with one of the handmaids (Atwood, 145-167). The book touches on the theme of environmental degradation, which is the main cause of the people’s problems. All the women who are not able to have children are sent in camps where they have to clean radioactive waste (Atwood, 200-231).

The Road

Death is one of the most evident themes in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The characters face the risk of death by their very existence. They live in a harsh and cruel world, where they have to fend for themselves using any available means. They risk the risk of death from starvation, the harsh environmental conditions, and from the cannibals roaming around looking for human beings to eat. Cannibalism portrays the hardships and cruelty which people face everyday. As father and son continue with their journey, they encounter a newborn child, prepared for human consumption through roasting. These scenes are saddening and horrifying to both men but they have to continue with their journey (McCarthy, 27-100). The book contains the theme of tenacity and determination, especially on the father’s part. The father is ill and he coughs blood. He is the only hope for his son’s survival. He perseveres and continues with the journey, using whatever means he can to protect his son from all the dangers surrounding them (McCarthy, 104-132).

Environmental degradation is a fundamental theme in the story. The lack of any visible form of plant life, presence of nuclear waste, lack of birds and animals are illustrations of how far the environment has degraded during this time. This degradation is the cause of all human suffering, since the people cannot find food anywhere (McCarthy, 140-156). The theme and concept of environmental degradation and its relation to human suffering in the book is similar to the one in “The Handmaid’s Tale”. The theme of parental love is evident in the story. The father and son share a bond of friendship and closeness, a bond that seems to have begun when the father delivered the son. The father is willing to teach the son all the good things and values in life. He takes the time to swim with him and to teach him how to float. He tells the son of the humanity and courage that existed in the old world. The father teaches the son how to be one of the ‘good guys’ in the new and cruel world (McCarthy, 175-220).


















Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986. Print.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.

Lauro, Shirley. A Piece of My Heart. New York: Samuel French, 1992. Print.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Flamingo, 1991. Print.


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