For young people, the Vietnam War is a thing of the past and they can only learn about it from second hand sources. In Tim O’brien’s The Things They Carried, it becomes very apparent that the Vietnam conflict has proved to be one that many of the participants have not been able move away from, while getting on with their lives. Obrien shows that the conflict takes on a parasitic form that eats away on its victims for the rest of their lives. A parasite is defined as an organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while harming its host.
The war in this case takes the place of the organism, and the host becomes the soldiers. There are several examples of the parasitic nature of war through out the book. In one particular section, Tim O’Brien returns to Vietnam with his daughter. Twenty years had gone by, but it seems as though all of his thoughts are geared back to the time he had spent in the jungle so long before. The two of them travel all over the country, but before their departure, he returns to the field where he feels he lost everything. On this list he includes his honor, his best friend, and all faith in himself.
For O’Brien, evidence of the parasite is not solely in his return Vietnam, but rather a constant personal preoccupation that seems to flow through the collection of stories. O’Brien shows how the memories of the war take on a parasitic form, and uses himself as an example. In the chapter Speaking of Courage, O’Brien introduces a character by the name of Norman Bowker. In the story Norman finds him self home after serving his time in Vietnam. Even though he is back in his home town, things do not seem the same to him.
The was seems to have put a new spin on his life. Most of the story e spends driving in circles while thinking about the war and his lack of place in his old society. The war becomes his whole life, and he feels as though he is to far distant from the town people for them to understand. The reader then finds out that Bowker commits suicide because the parasitic affect of his memories became to much for him to handle. There is another section in the book where a man named Jimmy Cross comes to visit O’Brien after the war. They talk of experiences and hardships, then it becomes apparent Cross has also been unable to totally move on with his life.
There are still secrets, and they still weigh heavy on his mind even during his his every day civilian life. O’Brien never complains about these problems, but it is clear the they bother him a great deal. There are countless themes in this book, but one of the major ones is the after effects the war had and still has on the men that were there. It is clear from O’Brien’s writing on Cross, Bowker, and himself is more than just story telling. In using these people he attempts to show what the war has done to the population of soldiers that participated in the conflict.