Things They Carried By Tim OBrien

Things They Carried By Tim O’BrienHow does death affect the behavior of people? Although death affects
everyone’s behavior differently, knowledge of one’s imminent death is a main
force behind behavioral changes. This knowledge causes emotions that motivate
people to act in ways that they normally would not. In Tim O’Brien’s ?The
Things They Carried,? the knowledge of death and its closeness causes the men
in the story to alter their behavior by changing they way they display power,
modifying emotions to relieve guilt, and by exhibiting different actions to ease
anxiety. Death can change how people display their power or how they use their
existing power by altering their behavior. Power is an emotionally strong
element to have; power can make someone feel better by knowing that they have
control over someone or something else. When fear is present, power can aid in
easing the anxiety by giving the person the emotional lift that is present when
control is felt. The power, which is present in the story, is physical power and
an example is Norman Bowker carrying a thumb of a boy that had been killed. The
carrying of the thumb shows that he had power over the boy; this gives him some
relief to know he had that kind of control. Cross’s power, over the rest of
the men, increased his fear of death for all the men not just himself because he
is responsible for them. With his responsibility, Jimmy Cross alters his
behavior to keep all of his men safe, and he only does this because of his
power. An example of Jimmy Cross changing his behavior because of power was
after Lavender was killed, when he led the troop into the town of Than Khe to
destroy everything they could. Jimmy had been acting more passively about the
war before Lavender was killed, but after he was shot Lieutenant Cross’s power
over the town and his men made him take them into the village to destroy it when
he would not have normally. The destruction of the village does not bring
Lavender back or even make Cross feel better, but it shows how death can alter
behavior with power. Guilt can cause people to change actions or thoughts very
rapidly. It does this because guilt makes the person regret how they ignored
their values or ideals and the change comes from wanting to not repeat the
misjudgment of their actions. The involved changes to relieve guilt are
modifications of behavior. The modifications can be a change in one’s values
or ideals on life or they could be a change in actions that they have been
doing. In the story Lieutenant Cross makes both of the changes after the death
of Lavender. He changes his values by acknowledging that Martha was not in love
with him and now he would not be in love with her and he also burnt the pictures
and letters so he was not looking at them anymore. The guilt that they all felt
altered how they acted. Some of the men made jokes about tense situations that
were not funny because joking made them feel better. The situation grew lighter
by laughter, even though the men knew nothing was funny about their situation,
and this knowledge made them feel guilty about their insensitive acts because it
violated their values. The way the men dealt with their guilt was by passing the
blame or trying not to think about how wrong it was, even though they knew.

These kinds of strange reactions to normally tense or tragic situations are a
way to ease the fear of death. Anxiety about death follows the men everywhere
they go and they have many different ways to disguise their fear and many ways
to defend against it. The men were ready for everything in the war: they had
their radio to call in help, their guns to defend against enemies, and their
pride and dignity to disguise fear. Disguising fear is very hard because it is
such a strong emotion. Great fear is impossible to hide as evident by the
actions of the men when they were involved in the intense fights where they
would say ?Dear Jesus and (flop) around on the earth and (fire) their weapons
blindly and (cringe) and (sob) and (beg) for the noise to stop?(1075). When it
was all over they would get up dust them selves off and try to smile to show
their dignity and strength. Their strength in these situations was lost for the
time, but because of the anxiety they wanted to change their actual behavior to
appear unafraid and ready for more. This type of action was done all the time by
the men they weren’t being cruel they were just hiding their fears O’Brien
says ?They were afraid of dying, but they were even more afraid to show
it?(1075). This change in their behavior is a disguise of fear, but it is also
a defense against it. The men had many defenses against fear including joking,
being cruel, carrying guns, and killing other people. The men were most likely
not cruel individuals, but to defend against fear they had to remove compassion
for people, actions, and themselves. The men did this to not feel the pain that
is present when they lose a member of the group; if they feel no attachment to
him there is no feeling of loss. The men’s actions did not seem cruel to them;
it was just their way of battling against fear. This type of separation is a
major change in behavior because it is natural to become attached to others when
they are close. Another major change in behavior is the men killed other men; it
is not normal for these civilized men to walk through a jungle and kill other
men. Why do they kill the other men? Because if they don’t kill, they will be
killed and they know this and respect it. The men have respect because of the
fear they have of death, and the fear is entered into them by experience and it
is a major part in their behavioral change. The reason the men changed
behaviorally in the story was mainly due to fear, but there are many other
reasons why people change. Taking orders is another way of changing as the men
did in the story, separate themselves, lose compassion, and kill, because
someone else told them to. The orders gives the person an excuse that ?I was
just following orders,? well in a sense that is what the men were doing in the
story. In the story they were following the unwritten orders of war and they
changed their behavior because they were told to by the war.

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