Self and the Changing World Essay

Analytical Essay:

People experience death everyday. A family member could die of cancer, a family pet could pass away or soldiers could kill or watch their friends get killed. In the book, “The Things They Carried”, by Tim O’Brien, people are affected by their changing world everyday because they are in a war. One of the biggest changes that affects them would be death. Since there are so many different people in the war, reactions to death would differ from person to person. The relationship of the changing world and the self can be different according to how they deal with strong emotions.

Azar was one of the first characters in the book that stood out as someone who wasn’t really the nicest guy in the platoon. He blew up a puppy, made jokes about people when they died and always had something snarky to say. When the main character, Tim O’Brien killed is first man, Azar was one of the first people to comment on it. “Oh man, you fuckin’ trashed the fucker” Azar said. “You scrambled his sorry-self, look at that, you did, you laid him out like Shredded Fuckin’ Wheat.” (pg. 125) Azar needed to deal with death in a way that wouldn’t affect himself directly. He did this by making jokes about the dead and he didn’t try to comfort the person who was shocked by the death. In the quote above, he talks to O’Brien in a way that shows that he is tough and that death doesn’t affect him. He doesn’t know how else to deal with the fact that someone was blown up in front of him. He doesn’t have a filter, so he says whatever comes to mind. Since he has gotten to war, his world has been changing with every death that Azar sees. He has created a person who says that he isn’t fazed by death so that he seems tough, like society’s image of a soldier should be.

When O’Brien killed the man, it was his first experience with death that he had caused. He fills up two chapters talking about how the body looked and what people were saying to him. He also made up a narrative about the man that he killed. He imagined the dead man’s education and his family and his personality. “He liked books. He wanted someday to be a teacher of mathematics. At night, lying on his mat, he could not picture himself doing these brave things his father had done, or his uncles, or the heroes of the stories.” (pg. 125) O’Brien can’t stop replaying the scene of the death over in his head after it’s happened. All he can do is stare at the body and repeat the details over and over again. To cope with the death, he makes up a story about the body. Some people would think that this is a bad idea because then O’Brien would be seeing him as someone who is equal to him with a life and with people who cared about him, which would then make O’Brien have grief and empathy for the person he just killed. O’Brien would want to distance himself from the person, not see the person as someone just like him. In the book he never explains why he does it or if it makes him feel better. In O’Brien’s changing world, he is someone who kills people and that makes him feel guilty and sad.

Death of a real person isn’t the only death that someone in war can see. In one chapter, a man is telling a story about how one soldier was able to arrange his girlfriend to come to Vietnam. No one had ever done it before so people weren’t sure what to expect. The girlfriend’s name was Mary Anne and everybody loved her when she got to camp. The only problem was that she wanted to be in the war. She was taken by the war and she would go on midnight stake-outs with the men. “Vietnam made her glow in the dark. She wanted more, she wanted to penetrate deeper into the mystery of herself, and after a time the wanting became needing, which turned then to craving.” (pg 114) Mary Anne became so interested in the war that a part of her old self died. She didn’t think that she would ever be able to go back to America after what she’d experienced in Vietnam. This is because she came into the war innocent and since the war was such a shock and adrenaline producing, she wanted to stay forever in the war. Before the war she was someone who wore headbands and cotton shorts but after the war she was someone who wore a human tongue necklace and went around barefoot. Her way of dealing with the war and shock of death is by becoming a completely different person.

In an interview, Tim O’Brien talks about how he noticed different people coping with the changes in their world. He said that a way that was commonly used was imagination. “Imagination is important in a couple of ways. One way is as a psychological means of escape. If you can lose yourself in a fantasy, then you're no longer trapped in the horror of, say, Vietnam. You're back home with your girlfriend, eating a nice dinner at the Ritz instead of C-rations.” Throughout the whole book, people have to create a fantasy so that they can deal with death and war. He said this because he wanted to confirm that this a feeling that can happen with the war. He is saying that by pretending that you are in a fantasy world can help you deal with the war and the deaths that happen in the war. Without a way of coping, war can be stressful and quite possibly the worst event in someone’s life.

In war, people’s lives are changing and almost all of the people need a way to deal with the changes. People have to figure out what works best for them and sometimes they don’t even realize that they are finding a way of dealing with their problems. Because of these changes in someone’s world, they react in whatever way they can cope with the changes.

Works Cited for Analytical Essay:

-Sawyer, Scott. "In the Name of Love: An Interview With Tim O'Brien." Mars Hill Review. Winter/Spring 1996. Web. October 20 2009.

-O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway, 1998. Print.

Narrative Essay:

It was late afternoon on a Thursday in the middle of May and I was nine years old. I had just started to set the table for dinner when my mom’s cell phone rang. My mom picked it up with her usual cheery “Hello?” But everything that happened after that was not usual. Her face dropped and she went out the back door to sit on the porch. I tried to listen to the strains of the conversation to see if I could guess who was on the phone. My mom used different tones of her voice for different people, but this tone was something that I had never heard before.

My dad was making pancakes in the kitchen while she was talking on the phone. He gave us some to eat before going outside to talk to my mom. My sister, who was about to turn four, didn’t seem to be bothered by the events happening outside, but I was worried. Why did both my parents need to be outside? Who were they talking to?

I got bored, waiting for them to come back, so I finished my pancakes and went back to my room to read on my bed. Finally, I heard the phone being put down and footsteps coming back to my room. I sat up, ready to know what was going on.

“Mom? Who was that?”

“That was Andrea from Virginia. Um...Lee killed himself this afternoon, and she was calling to let us know.” Lee was my best friend’s step-dad, who was like another dad to me. My real dad called him his best friend as an adult and our families did almost everything together. My best friend and I grew up together in Virginia, living about 200 feet away from each other.

When I heard the news about Lee, the thought that I would never see him again, didn’t hit me right away. I was more concerned about how he killed himself and when the funeral was. The memorial service was the next Monday, which meant that we would be leaving Iowa (where we had been living at the time) on Friday right after school and be gone for the whole weekend. I was slightly relieved at this news because it meant that I was going to be missing my violin recital, which I had been dreading since the date had been set.

Other than those few emotions of relief and sadness, I didn’t experience much more. It didn’t sink in that I wouldn’t ever get a hug from him again or that I would never laugh at one of his crazy jokes. When we were driving to Virginia, all I thought about was that I was going to see my friends again. Once we were in Virginia, I thought about dresses to wear and what toys to play with. At the memorial service, I thought about how hard everyone was crying and how much I couldn’t wait to get out of the dress I was wearing. At the burial, I thought about how it was kind of cold and rainy and how we were going to be leaving the next day. Driving back to Iowa, I thought about how I have school and what homework I have to do. Not once did I think about how Lee was in the ground forever.

Something that I have done since I was young, was bottle my emotions up and push them down. I would deal with them later, when they would rise back up. I would feel sad for the day but then I would put any remaining emotions away. I would do this whenever there was an event that would make me feel strong emotions.

This wasn’t the healthiest habit though. I would have crying spells over smallest things; like my books not fitting on my shelf correctly or getting a bad grade on a homework. I realized that my tears weren’t actually about the homework or the books but actually about whatever else I was angry with or sad about, from years ago. To fix my habit, I would try to make myself cry when something sad would happen, like a death, but it would feel insincere and almost sarcastic because I wasn’t actually feeling that emotion. I learned that I would have to just deal with the fact that I bottle my feelings up. This was my way of coping with the changes that were happening in my world.

My crying spells still happen now, as I haven’t fully grasped the idea that he will never see me as a young woman or that I will never share one of my own jokes with him, but I’m getting there. The thing about changes that are related to death is that many people experience them but the emotions never truly go away. They will always be there to pop back up when called upon and they will make good days into bad days. That’s why every person has a way of coping with the changes, whether it is to push the emotions down, makes jokes about the deaths, makes stories about the victim, or even become one with the dead. Every person has their own way of dealing with death because death is inevitable.

Comments (1)

Ilker Erkut (Student 2016)
Ilker Erkut

What grabbed me in the essay was the narrative. I found that it was really good. It hit all the right points and is very specific . I felt like I was into it very much. I felt like I was there, like I was feeling what you feel now. It was a great narrative.