Grief and Trauma in O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried'
In this book grief and trauma has been displayed in different characters who differently react to the situation. The characters are the narrator, his platoon leader in Vietnam War and a soldier. Tim O’Brien, Jimmy Cross and Norman Bowker respectively. The narrator is constantly telling stories and talking about his other written books. Whereby, he says that telling stories is a way of reacting to grief and trauma because he is trying to work through trauma (O’Brien, 2009). Most importantly, he is making a coherent a story so as to transform his traumatic experiences to a narrative memory. However, this turns out to be a failure because his stories are not in a chronological order. This is caused by the fact there are stories he does not want to tell because he is yet to work through them. This indicates that once one’s grief leads to trauma it is hard to do away with it. Therefore, an exploration will be done showing how grief and trauma has been displayed differently by different characters within different situations in O’Brien’s work and grief plus loss in the work of Nicole Krauss.
Jimmy Cross on the other side, represses his trauma during the war and after. His two experience of trauma are deaths of two soldiers. Trauma in these cases came as result of him feeling guilty for their deaths due to the fact that as their platoon leader, he was responsible for them for them hence was supposed to avoid such from happening. The first case being that of Ted Lavender who was shot while on his way back after peeing Jimmy felt guilty for the death because he was not attentive rather thinking about his girlfriend Martha (O’Brien, 2011). As a result “he hated himself and felt shame as trauma hit him because that was something he had to carry like stone in the stomach for the rest of the war” (O’Brien, pp.166). The second case is the death of Kiowa which happens as a result of Jimmy setting up their camp on a field which was described as big and swampy by the villagers. Thus, the fact that he could avoided this from happening by listening to the villagers, this death caused him grief and trauma too. This made him think of writing a letter to Kiowa’s father to apologize because he kept feeling something tight inside him. However, he did not write it so as to escape reality which ended up disturbing him for the rest of his life. “It was something that would never go away, he said quietly, and I nodded and told him I felt the same about certain things” (O’Brien, pp.47-78).
Norman Bowker on the other hand experienced trauma as a result of also feeling guilty for the death of Kiowa. In this situation he is unable to talk to anyone even to his father. Thus, he shuts from everyone and chooses to deal with it on his own. When he tells about the death of Kiowa he says that he had not been brave enough to save him because he laid next to him during his death. He goes ahead to blame this on the fact that as he laid next to him he was showing him a picture of his girlfriend whereby he says that if it were not for that moment he would had enough time to save him.
Grief and Loss in “History of Love” by Nicole Krauss
This book is different from O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’ in that, characters experience grief and loss through losing their loved ones in various ways. Firstly, lives of Leo Gursky and Alma Singer are shaped by loss which inflicts grief and pain thus affecting their choices and how they perceived the world. Nevertheless, they both look for ways to bring joy in their lives and to maintain hope. Specifically, Alma’s loss of her father makes her change her life wholly due to the fact that the loss affects all her family members. However, they are all affected in a different manner. For instance, she wears a sweater that belonged to her dad for 42 days so as to always feel close to him (Krauss, 2006) and deal with trauma. Her brother reacts to the feeling by devoting to his life to religion so as to escape reality. Their mother, on the other side “keeps her love for their father alive just like the first day they met during summer” (Krauss, pp.45). As a result, this inhibits Alma and her brother from moving on from their father’s death. Alma says, “I would never be able to win over the memories my mother had of dad because I build a world out of them that I can survive in even if no one else can” (Lang, pp.43-56). The trauma resulted her to perceiving love as something that inflicts pain and thus avoided anything to do with it at all cost.
Leo on the other hand is affected by the loss of his love which instills pain in him that leads him to losing family and opportunity, and he never recovers from that. “The feeling goes ahead to make him negatively perceive the world which leads him to more loss as he chooses to stay alone to an extent of not seeing his son” (Kaplan, pp.42-53). Besides, losing Alma caused him to become a recluse such that he felt like if he loved someone else he would be betraying her. “Alma was gone, and all that was left was the space behind where you’d grown around her, like a tree that grows around a fence” (Codde, pp.62-75).
In the two books, gender works in the same way in that both genders are portrayed. Moreover, women in both sides have played a part in bringing about grief, loss and trauma in lives of men. For instance Leo felt loss after losing Alma while Jimmy felt loss because he could not win Martha as he expected. However, in O’Brien’s book, women do not experience grief like it is in Krauss’s book. Furthermore, Krauss has explored intergenerational trauma in the case whereby the loss of David Singer affects his wife and both of his children who all experience trauma in various ways as illustrated above in the essay (Berger& Milbauer, pp.64).
Berger, A. L., & Milbauer, A. Z. (2013). The Burden of Inheritance. Shofar, 31(3), 64-85.
Codde, P. (2009). Transmitted Holocaust trauma: a matter of myth and fairy tales? European
Judaism, 42(1), 62-75.
Krauss, N. (2006). The History of Love: A Novel. WW Norton & Company.
Kaplan, S. (2014). The undying uncertainty of the narrator in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 35(1), 43-52
Lang, J. (2009). The History of Love, the Contemporary Reader, and the Transmission of
Holocaust Memory. Journal of Modern Literature, 33(1), 43-56.
O’Brien, T. (2009). The things they carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
O’Brien, T. (2011). The Things They Carried. 120 banned, 7, pp. 166.
O'Brien, T. (2010). From How to Tell a True War Story. Minnesota Center for Book Arts.pp.47-78.