Symbolism In The Things They Carried By Tim O Brien

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Authors can use symbolism countless ways to add underlying messages to a rather normal story. The most significant effect of symbolism in The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is that symbolism shows that the mental and emotional health of American troops was severely and negatively impacted in the Vietnam War, specifically Tim O’Brien. “The war itself offered him nothing but darkness; maybe, in writing about it, he [Tim O’Brien] can find a ray of light (Hope College/WTS Journal List).” Events, thoughts, and characters throughout the novel provide symbols that represent one of the true underlying narratives of the novel. Many of the occurrences in the novel never historically happened to the author and symbolically used to explain a message …show more content…
In “On The Rainy River,” for example, O’Brien the author never truly worked at a meatpacking factory before taking a trip to the Canadian border once he received his Vietnam draft notice. In the novel, when he returned home from the meat packing plant, he always smelled terribly of a dead pig. He tried to clean the scent off but could not escape it. Once he left for Canada, his intentions were to cross the border and evade the draft. He met this man named Elroy Berdahl and worked for him for a few days. The narrator eventually decided to not cross into Canada when Elroy purposefully gave him an easy opportunity to without confronting O’Brien. This symbolizes his mental conflict and uncertainty. O’Brien cannot get himself to realize that he will have to fight and kill for reasons that go against his morals. “The nightmarish idea of slaughter (Shmoop Editorial Team)” consumes his mind and forces anxiety and stress upon him. Since this never truly happened to the author, Tim O’Brien, O’Brien used this to symbolize the conflict going on inside his head as he struggled with the thought of fighting a war that did not align with his moral values. The appalling swine scent that he never could remove, symbolized the constant internal moral battle that he could not evade even for a second. O’Brien fought with this intense conflict of his personal moral values and the peer pressure of society. He wrote this story into the novel to show how truly conflicted he was at the time of his draft notice. Elroy noticed and understood all of this perfectly but wanted to give O’Brien his own decision. Elroy resembles a God-like figure in a way. Not in the omnipotent sense, but more that Elroy understands how Tim feels and stands idly by, allowing Tim to choose his own path. “He was the true audience. He was a witness, like God, or

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