The Things They Carried Essay - Feedback Please

I am stronger on themes and ideas with this text but I was wondering how close I am to excellence doing an essay about a character. Any feedback is appreciated.

Analyse how the experiences of a character were used to comment on society

Text: The Things They Carried
Author: Tim O’Brien

Intro: introduce norman bowker, main experiences that commented on aspects of society
Paragraph 1: Relationship with his father, medals, perceived expectations.
Paragraph 2: The treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their return; no victory parades, ignoring, disregard
Paragraph 3: Lack of cushioning for returning veterans.
Conclusion: Summary

Authors often use the experiences of their characters to comment on aspects of society. In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien uses the character Norman Bowker to represent the plight of Vietnam veterans upon their return from the war, and how they were treated by society. Through Norman Bowker he commented on perceived expectation, lack of pride, and lack of required attention. Society never really helped those men relieve themselves of the things they carried.

Tim O’Brien uses Norman Bowker’s relationship with his father to represent perceived expectations of military achievement. “I’ll tell you something, O’Brien. If I could have one
wish, anything, I’d wish for my dad to write me a letter and say it’s okay if I don’t win any medals. That’s all my old man talks about, nothing else. How he can’t wait to see my goddamn medals.” I’m sure Bowker’s father didn’t actually have huge expectations he needed Bowker to live up to, but little comments like those lead to perceived expectations, especially in the mind of someone at war. This made Norman Bowker feel inadequate, even though he won seven medals he did not receive the silver star for valour. He was an incredibly brave man, with or without the medals, and there was nothing he could do about Kiowa. Through Norman Bowker Tim O’Brien is commenting on the emphasis society puts on medals and how that makes the average soldier feel. A lot of people only want to know about a soldier if they won 1000 medals and saved 1000 lives, but the reality is these cases are pretty rare. Any soldier who gives up his life to go fight for his country is a hero, and should be treated accordingly, whether or not he has accolades to show for it. It’s like if someone started playing sport for their country but their parents and fans weren’t proud of them because they didn’t win player of the season. Ridiculous. Feeling like no one cares about them and that their family is disappointed in them because they didn’t bring back any medals can put a veteran’s mind in an even more dangerous position than it already is. This is reflected, partly, as a possible contribution to Norman Bowker’s suicide. They were failed by those they held dearest

Tim O’Brien uses Norman Bowker to comment on the disgraceful treatment of Vietnam Veterans upon their return from the war. Norman Bowker in Speaking of Courage drives around a lake, again and again and again. Throughout the chapter Bowker plays out situations in his head in which he tells the story of the shit field to someone special. He uses phrases such as “he would say” demonstrating that he wants to tell these stories, but, ironically, cannot find the courage to do so. Bowker finally gets the opportunity to tell the story at the fast-food intercom. “Hey, loosen up,” the voice said. “What you really need, friend?” Norman Bowker smiled. “Well,” he said, “how’d you like to hear about—” He stopped and shook his head. “Hear what, man?” “Nothing.” Norman Bowker ended up hanging himself in July of 1978. He is a perfect symbol of the treatment of Vietnam Veterans on their return to their countries. All he wanted to talk about was how he felt and the reality he experienced but was not made to feel welcome to do so. People took anger meant for their governments for sending them to such a pointless war and turned it into coldness towards their returning soldiers. Once again, this sort of treatment only serves to hurt the mental health of already unstable men, men who had been through hell already. They coped with this disgraceful treatment in ways that reflected it, with high rates of divorce, substance abuse, and suicide. They deserved so much more.

Finally, Tim O’Brien uses Norman Bowker to comment on the severe lack of cushioning given to Vietnam Veterans required to fit back into their lives. Norman Bowker shows signs of PTSD and mental instability throughout Speaking of Courage. The night in the shit field was one of the most traumatic events of Norman Bowker’s life. “There were bubbles where Kiowa’s head should’ve been.” “He pulled hard but Kiowa was gone, and then suddenly he felt himself going, too. He could taste it. The shit was in his nose and eyes. There were flares and mortar rounds, and the stink was everywhere—it was inside him, in his lungs—and he could no longer tolerate it.” He plays it over and over in his head, thinking of how he would describe it if anyone cared. Even talking would help. But he didn’t feel like anyone cared, and there was nothing set up, no therapy, no group sessions, to make him change his mind and get everything off his chest. “It’s almost like I got killed over in Nam . . . Hard to describe. That night when Kiowa got wasted, I sort of sank down into the sewage with him . . . Feels like I’m still in deep shit." There was just about zero help provided to them and this is what Norman Bowker - who took his life as a result of having no way to get better. This is what O’Brien is commenting on, and is again reflected in the high rates of divorce, substance abuse, and suicide among Vietnam Veterans. That there weren’t enough safeguards in place to prevent these damning statistics. They went to hell and back and all they were given to stop the burning was a packet of frozen peas.

This essay has analysed how Tim O’Brien used the experiences of Norman Bowker to comment on society. These comments pertained to unrealistic expectations, the terrible treatment of Vietnam Veterans and the lack of help provided for them to make sure they lived the rest of their lives in the happiness that they deserved. Some of the things they carried they were never able to put down.

Kia ora - nice to see you back using Studyit!

A lovely essay - well signposted with some great examples used. To make sure this is a secure excellence (and I would say it is kind of a border M/E at the moment) - I suggest signposting/developing what the EXPERIENCE is a little more that you are discussing - especially signposting in the topic sentences - it is implied in the middle of your paragraphs but try to use key words. You might also benefit from adding in a bit more reader response - eg as the reader how are we affected by the specific line you have used as an example - the analysis of the language the author has used to craft this character is important and needs to be detailed.

A generally good essay though with some solid purpose and making some links to historical context - well done :slight_smile:

1 Like

Thanks so much for your reply, I’ll take all of your suggestions into account and be back with another essay. How important is the analysis of language features in this external?

The analysis of language features is not the be all and end all (ie you could achieve at any level without necessarily having them labelled) but it can help you add insight to your discussion and an “appreciation of the authors craft” - ie it shows you understand HOW the author has crafted whatever aspect you are discussing - eg you might pick apart how when the author writes “it was inside him, in his lungs” (metaphorically) - what tone does this create, how might this impact the reader?

1 Like