They may have survived but it’s not a happy ending 79 No Essay

They may have “survived, but it’s not a happy ending” (79). No matter what side the soldiers were fighting on, the reality is that they had no control over the person they evolve to be. Over the course of their time in Vietnam, the youthful side that the men release to survive the horrors of war is indicated through the appearance of women. Several females integrated through the text stand to symbolize the effects the war has on someone not only physically, but emotionally.

Through the incorporation of female characters Martha, Mary Anne, and Linda in O’Brien’s, The Things They Carried, it demonstrates the loss of innocence within all individuals when joining the war.

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Although appearing only briefly throughout the novel, Martha affirms the diminishing of O’Brien and his friend’s past selves along their journey facing the horrors of war. Her presence purposed a symbol of genuine innocence, contrasting the initial purity that they all contained to the aftermath.

In relation to Jimmy Cross, he carried her letters holding the hopes and fantasies of romance with a pure young woman. When thinking about Martha, Cross “had difficulty keeping his attention on the war” (8). His mind wanders whenever he thinks about her or reads her letters, forming an escapist fantasy from the brutality of the war around him. These soldiers did not think of these women as people with thoughts, fears, and needs but instead view them as motivation to survive. Comparing Martha’s life at college in Mount Sebastian to his, Cross affirms that Vietnam is “another world, where there were no pretty poems or midterm exams, a place where men died because of carelessness and gross stupidity” (23). The innocence within Martha is generates Cross’s longing for her to use as a distraction from his own reality. It is her that evokes him to escape briefly from the raging war. Including Martha in this novel provided a glimpse into the innocence that the men contained at the beginning, and it is that same innocence that they lose in Vietnam.

In relation to Martha, the story of Mary Anne paints a perplexing picture of how war transforms the charisma of anyone exposed to it. Her transformation expresses that the savage nature of war can fundamentally strip even the purest individuals of their innocence. Mary Anne begun as “this seventeen-year-old doll in her goddamn culottes, perky and fresh-faced” (92). Initially appearing as dainty and pretty, she quickly proves to be just as strong as the men. Fossie and the men watch this na?ve, sensitive, and timid girl blur the stereotypes connected to the sensibilities of females. Rat Kiley admits that, “I mean, when we first got here—all of us—we were real young and innocent, full of romantic bullshit, but we learned pretty damn quick. And so did Mary Anne” (93). Clearly, war holds the ability to alters women in the same way it alters soldiers. Mary Anne converted from a romantic, idealistic girl to a night watcher wearing a necklace of human tongues. Even someone who carries traditional gender stereotypes of the typical American women will be affected by the slaughter of humanity’s innocence. In O’Brien’s male-centric stories about war, women are no exception to the drainage of the internal youth that awaits all soldiers involved.

Moreover, Linda resembles as the most influential women in Tim O’Brien’s life, exploring the common thread of lost memories containing initial innocence. For O’Brien, Linda is identical to representing his own loss of innocence. Along her side at nine years old, Linda demonstrates the promise of childhood, as O’Brien simultaneously experienced both love and death for the first time. O’Brien expresses that, “I just loved her. She had poise and great dignity. Her eyes, I remember, were deep brown like her hair, and she was slender and very quiet and fragile-looking” (228). Beginning as so delicate and beautiful, Linda’s balding head is revealed, and later her corpse. In association to O’Brien, their innocence is concurrently lost forever with her death. O’Brien utilizes the memory of his past self and Linda to alleviate the pain in any traumatic situation. O’Brien articulates, “But this too is true: stories can save us […] in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world” (213). The stories that he writes are an outlet to bring the dead back to life, which provides an escape to the life in the war. O’Brien preserves and re-lives these memories with Linda to remember what it was like to be that gentle, youthful child again. Like Kiowa, Ted Lavender and Curt Lemon, Linda is dead, and the only thing left is her memory. It’s memories like this that remind the soldiers what life was like before their innocence was shattered.

Within the course of The Things They Carried, the female characters of Martha, Mary Anne, and Linda, all demonstrate the loss of innocence that can be inflicted upon anyone exposed to such horrendous circumstances in Vietnam. Women such as Martha affect the men of the Alpha Company by providing them with emotional ties that anchor these soldiers to reality as they make their way through the state of war. Additionally, Mary Anne is symbolic of the transformation of innocence through experiences, likewise to the soldiers. Finally, Linda is a female that will live forever on the page while O’Brien recalls the memory of her as his youthful past self that he has now lost in the depths of the war. The soldiers all idealize these women and use their presence as a comfort and source of relief that grounds them to humanity as a reminder that a world does exist outside the atrocities of Vietnam. Moreover, the female presence indicates that the loss of innocence within each person is unescapable when exposed to the tragedies of war. Participation in the war both defies and destroys the innocence of anyone involved.

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