Monday, March 8, 2010

Reflections from Catrina Maxwell, CCV Student

I, Catrina Maxwell, served in the U.S. Air Force as an active duty munitions technician from October 18th 2004 to October 18th 2008. “The Things They Carried” is a short story about soldiers serving during the Vietnam War. After reading the short story “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien, I was deeply moved and felt compelled to write the following response:

Being in the military can be a lot like being a Martian. There is an intrinsic feeling that you are part of something distant and misunderstood, while everyone else carries on in some other plane of existence that is both fascinated by, and fearful of your presence. Tim O’Brien knows this feeling of alienation well, being a veteran himself. In his short story, “The Things They Carried”, O’Brien gives the reader a glimpse into the great many things that separate us (in the service) from the civilians, the burden of which is remarkable.

His main character, Lt. Jimmy Cross, gives the reader a laundry list of tangible items and their weight. This physical, specified weight is an integral piece in the full picture of the story. The reader must know the load of these things to understand the crushing pain of carrying it. For all of the blood in combat, there is an equal amount of sweat, and the struggle with each is palpable. From the Kevlar of the helmet to the steel toes inside the boots, the bulk is exhausting and extremely limiting, which makes freedom an impossibility. The weight of the things that the men carry on their bodies is both painful and binding.

So too are the emotional encumbrances that they carry. These are perhaps even more
devastating as they are indispensable. The author has given these men additional cargo that cannot be blown apart or thrown away. Kiowa bunkers down in a foxhole with the rest of the men, but his mistrust still presses down on him. Lavender carries on beneath the weight of his paranoia, until the moment a bullet grants him leave. Lt. Cross can burn the pictures of her, but his love for Martha still nags at him, and eventually, turns him into another cog in the stone faced machine. These are not weights that can be left in the dirt; these are weights that are gnarled into the soul.

Catrina is enrolled in Deborah Straw's Introduction to Literature class this spring.

image by Beverly & Pack

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