Metaphors in "The Things They Carried"

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About this sample


Words: 636 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Mar 16, 2024

Words: 636|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Mar 16, 2024

Table of contents

  1. The Weight of War
  2. The Burden of Memory
  3. The Elusiveness of Truth
  4. Conclusion

In Tim O'Brien's novel "The Things They Carried," the use of metaphors plays a crucial role in conveying the emotional and psychological weight carried by soldiers during the Vietnam War. Through the use of metaphors, O'Brien is able to explore the themes of love, loss, memory, and the complexities of war in a deeply personal and poignant way. This essay will analyze some of the key metaphors used in the novel and how they contribute to the overall narrative and themes.

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The Weight of War

One of the central metaphors in "The Things They Carried" is the physical weight carried by the soldiers, which serves as a powerful symbol for the emotional and psychological burdens they bear. O'Brien describes in detail the items each soldier carries in their backpacks, from weapons and ammunition to personal mementos and letters from home. This weight not only serves as a literal burden but also as a metaphor for the trauma and grief that the soldiers carry with them throughout the war.

For example, in the story "The Things They Carried," O'Brien describes the weight of Lieutenant Cross's love for Martha, a girl back home. Cross carries a pebble she sent him as a symbol of her love, but this weight becomes unbearable as he grapples with the guilt and responsibility he feels for the death of one of his men. The pebble serves as a metaphor for the emotional weight of love and loss that Cross carries with him, highlighting the complexities of human relationships in the midst of war.

The Burden of Memory

Another important metaphor in the novel is the idea of memory as a burden that the soldiers carry with them. O'Brien explores the ways in which memory can weigh heavily on the mind, shaping the soldiers' experiences and perceptions of the war. In the story "Speaking of Courage," O'Brien tells the story of Norman Bowker, a soldier who struggles to come to terms with his experiences in Vietnam.

Throughout the story, Bowker carries with him the memory of his friend Kiowa's death, feeling responsible for not being able to save him. This memory becomes a burden that Bowker cannot shake, haunting him long after the war is over. O'Brien uses this metaphor to explore the lasting impact of war on the soldiers' psyches, illustrating how the weight of memory can shape their identities and relationships long after they have returned home.

The Elusiveness of Truth

One of the most powerful metaphors in "The Things They Carried" is the idea of truth as a slippery and elusive concept. O'Brien blurs the lines between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, challenging the reader to question the veracity of the stories he tells. In the story "How to Tell a True War Story," O'Brien explores the complexities of storytelling and the ways in which truth can be distorted and manipulated.

Through the character of Rat Kiley, O'Brien illustrates the difficulty of conveying the reality of war through words. Kiley's stories are filled with exaggerations and embellishments, blurring the line between fact and fiction. O'Brien uses this metaphor to highlight the subjective nature of truth and the challenges of accurately representing the experiences of war. By doing so, he invites the reader to consider the ways in which storytelling can shape our understanding of history and memory.

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The use of metaphors in "The Things They Carried" serves as a powerful tool for exploring the emotional, psychological, and moral complexities of war. Through the weight of physical objects, the burden of memory, and the elusiveness of truth, O'Brien crafts a deeply personal and poignant narrative that challenges the reader to confront the realities of war and its lasting impact on those who have experienced it. By using metaphors to convey these themes, O'Brien creates a rich and layered story that resonates with readers long after they have finished the novel.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Metaphors in “The Things They Carried”. (2024, March 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“Metaphors in “The Things They Carried”.” GradesFixer, 15 Mar. 2024,
Metaphors in “The Things They Carried”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
Metaphors in “The Things They Carried” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 15 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from:
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