Alexandra Berliner Eshoo English 12 11/28/11 Something A Soldier Ignores: Death Fatalities are part of every person’s life. To a normal citizen, death is often followed by sadness and grief. As portrayed in “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, a soldier has to deal with the situation much differently. Death is portrayed in a negative light due to the fact that soldiers are greatly fearful of it and that they are forced to be unaffected by death. In order to cope with all the deaths he witnessed, O’Brien uses the retelling of war stories to heal from these traumatic events.
Throughout the novel, death is definitely portrayed as being a very negative part of war. Because it is such a negative thing, death tends to instill fear in soldiers. From the beginning of the novel, death is truly portrayed as being a very negative risk that anyone at war deals with: “Beyond all this, or at the very center, was the raw fact of terror. I did not want to die. Not ever” (44). It is known that death could be the outcome of going to war, and many of these young soldiers do not want to die.
Even though many soldiers end up going to war anyway, they are still fearful of death being a possible outcome for them. All of this fear and anxiety associated with war ultimately leads most people to view death in a negative light. It is definitely something that soldiers want to avoid, and even if they are not killed, death still has negative affects on them. In addition to death being portrayed in a negative light from the beginning of the novel, the soldiers are forced to be unaffected by death. As a result, it is seen how war changes people in a negative way.
Once the war is all over, the negative affects are still present, and O’Brien deals with them through retelling the past. It is seen that anyone that becomes involved in war eventually learns to be unaffected by death when one of the soldiers’ girlfriends comes to visit. She never leaves because she becomes fully invested in the war: “She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill” (116). When the girlfriend first came to the war site, she was innocent. Now, she has become part of the war and is ready to kill.
One of the most obvious ways that she has changed is that now she can kill people easily and is unaffected by it. The fact that such an innocent woman can be changed so drastically by war shows the negative affects of being unaffected by death. It has become part of life for these soldiers, while most people would see death as a scary thing. Additionally, we see another soldier forced to conform to the guidelines of war in the witnessing of Kiowa’s death: “The young soldier was trying hard not to cry” (170).
This shows that, when first exposed to war, the soldiers are actually upset when they see another person die. This is a normal reaction that most people would have; yet, the others soldiers look down upon this person. When the young soldier is about to cry, they know that he is new to the experiences, and they just ignore him. The experienced soldiers do this because they know that every soldier just has to ignore death. It is just an unavoidable part of war. In war, death is dehumanized, and every soldier is forced to ignore it; yet, it still has lasting negative affects on the soldiers.
O’Brien reveals that he deals with the situation through the retelling of war stories. By revealing these stories, it allows O’Brien, as well as the listener, to understand how exactly war works: “By telling stories, you objectify your own experience…You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain” (160).
This shows that all the bad experiences, including the thousands of deaths observed, are clarified through telling stories. Even if the stories are not totally accurate, bringing any part of the situation to light gives O’Brien the closure he needs. It allows him to understand what went on in the war and be able to heal from it. Even though the soldiers are forced not react to death as a civilized human would, it still affects them internally, and the best way for O’Brien to deal with the negativity of death is through talking about it.
Death is something that every soldier has to deal with on a regular basis. Thousands of people are killed every day at war, and so, the soldiers are forced to ignore the emotions associated with death. They do not have the time to be upset in the midst of protecting our country. As a result, all of the witnessed death affect them internally and stay with them for many years after the war is over. In order to deal with the negative affects, it is seen that O’Brien uses war stories as a way of healing. It allows him to understand what he experienced and move past it.