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... rific violence of the war. Another substantially detailed necessity of the men is their military supplies. O'Brien goes into minute detail, for literally pages, describing the supplies that the men used for defense purposes. Primarily, he lists the standard weaponry for war, the typical rifles, grenades, and defensive clothing such as the flak jacket and helmet (6- 7). He relates the enormous burden of weight that Ted Lavender was carrying when he was shot, and how that weight caused him to fall like "a big sandbag or something - just boom, then down." (7) The next passage describes all of the extra weapons they carried, ranging from fragmentation grenades to brass knuckles and a feathered hatchet (8-9). The wide variety and diversity of the weapons the men carry indicate the tremendous need to kill, by any possible means.
"They carried all that they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." (9) These burdens - the supplies the men carried to stay physically alive - are placed on the same level in terms of description as the objects carried that provided emotional sustenance to the men of the platoon. O'Brien makes no distinction in terms of writing style between the discussion of food and weapons and that of good luck charms and reminders of home. This is clearly evidenced in the previously mentioned passage on page 4, when the discussion of the men's habits and creature comforts are placed in the same paragraph as the lists of rations and sleep gear. Another extremely significant example of emotional sustenance is given in the descriptions of Lieutenant Cross's attachment to Martha. He carries her letters and reads them daily (1-2), and his love for her, as well as the mystery of her feelings for him, drives him, keeps him going, and gives his life meaning. He also carries her photographs (5-6) and the pebble she sends him (9) as constant reminders of her. But despite the limited weight that these possessions actually contain (the pebble is described as almost weightless on page 9), they prove to be huge burdens to Lieutenant Cross.
They bring back memories, such as the night at the movies when Martha would not kiss him back, as well as stimulate constant fantasies at random times, such as when Lee Strunk was in the tunnel. "Lieutenant Cross gazed at the tunnel. But he was not there. He was buried with Martha under the white sand at the Jersey shore. They were pressed together, and the pebble in his mouth was her tongue." (12) He is unable to stay in touch with the reality before him because the fantasy world is much more bearable, and when Ted Lavender dies while Cross is thinking of only Martha (13), Cross feels that he must also now carry the guilt of loving Martha more than his men and allowing one of them to die. The fact that there was little or nothing that Cross could do to prevent the shooting is apparently irrelevant to Cross, and this puzzles the reader. Cross's thoughts of Martha had nothing to do with Ted Lavender's death, and yet Cross feels the compulsion to associate them, which makes one wonder what other burdens Cross may be carrying internally that could provoke such unnecessary guilt.
Perhaps it could be a predisposition to guilt, established as a response to the countless atrocities of the war with little emotion or thought attributed to them, such as the cutting of the VC corpse (13-4). But there is also some evidence pointing to the fact that Cross may be suffering from some psychological problems. Some of his thoughts are very disturbing, such as his desire to tie Martha down on a bed (6) and his fantasy of being crushed with her under the weight of the tunnel (12). O'Brien never lists these mental instabilities as a tangible burden that Cross carries, perhaps because there is no standard unit to measure the loss of the senses, but it is implied nonetheless. Yet perhaps the greatest burden that the men felt the necessity to carry was the load of dignity. There was an unspoken need to stay tough, to maintain composure and not let the terror and the anxiety of a dire situation break through to the surface. At the most dangerous times, this panic may have shown, but not for long; "awkwardly, the men would reassemble themselves, first in private, then in groups, becoming soldiers again." (19) They felt the need to cover up fear with humor, looking death in the face with a grin; "they used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness . . .
as if to encyst and destroy the reality of death itself" (19-20). O'Brien captures the meaning of this burden eloquently when he states, "they carried the soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to." (20-1) This was the fear that weighed the men down the most, because it was hidden, internal. They would only allow themselves to dream of freedom, but not really examine it as a possibility, for those who took the easy way out by wounding themselves were thought of with scorn and contempt, despite traces of envy that the men felt inside (21). These descriptions give the illusion that these internal burdens that the men carried were keeping them alive, were necessary. Yet in light of Ted Lavender's death, this can hardly be the case. O'Brien relates his death in detail again and again through Kiowa, who simply cannot comprehend the fact that Lavender fell to the ground with such force and absolute certainty.
But Ted Lavender, who was scared . . . went down under an exceptional burden, more than 29 pounds of ammunition, plus the flak jacket and helmet and rations and water and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighed fear. He was dead weight. There was no twitching or flopping .
. . not like the movies where the dead guy rolls around and does fancy spins . . . Boom. Down.
Nothing else. (7) Ted Lavender collapsed under the burdens that he carried when he could carry them no more. O'Brien paints an interesting portrait of Ted, a deliberately vague description. He is not even alive within the narrative of the story; indeed, his death is a memory. Yet there are several significant details that are mentioned in the most offhand of ways. For example, he is described several times (including the passage above) as being "scared," yet the reader is never told precisely what frightens him. He is also known as the drug carrier of the group, with dope and tranquilizers, causing the reader to wonder why he needed these drugs so badly.
This is particularly evident when O'Brien is listing the "necessities" of the group such as food and water, and Ted's dope is placed in the same part of the story (4). But besides these unlisted possible burdens, O'Brien goes to great pains to list every burden that he carried, and he suggests the unweighed fear, a concept that has not yet been examined at that point in the story and will not be until nearly the end. Lavender was so incredibly burdened with the things that he needed to stay alive that in the end, those "necessities" caused his downfall. What, therefore, is O'Brien attempting to convey? The story is imbued with heavy irony, a weight that sends conflicting images to the reader and causes one to examine the realms of necessity. The entirety of the narrative consists of the objects and emotions that these men carry on a daily basis, things that they bear in order to ensure the survival of their bodies, minds, spirits, and sanities. Yet all of these things contribute to death and destruction. Ted Lavender collapses under the weight of a bullet, as well as all of the supplies on his back and the fear in his heart. Another character who is clearly hurting under the weight of the things he feels he has to carry is Lieutenant Cross.
Cross bears the emotional burden of his love for Martha, a love that he believes interferes with his duties and induces feelings of guilt and responsibility for the death of one of his men. In the end, Cross must leave the burden of his love behind, as he realizes that it is not sustaining him, but destroying him. The unrequited love is simply too much for him to bear, so he burns Martha's letters and resigns to get rid of the pebble (23-4). This scene is faintly reminiscent of Christ at Gesthemane, for Cross is alone and suffering great anxiety of spirit as his friends sleep. The reader clearly sees the cross of emotional desolation and guilt that rests across his shoulders. With this scene of Cross's recognition of the crushing burden of his love for Martha, O'Brien reveals the symbolism of Cross's name.
Fittingly, Cross is the one to realize the magnitude of the burdens that the men carry. "It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do." (24) His name obviously symbolizes his own personal burdens that have been masked as "necessary," as well as those of the men who trudged alongside of him. O'Brien takes the idea of necessity and examines it from every angle, finally coming to the conclusion that the magnitude of the things that men may think they need can become too much to bear. He examines not only the great physical strain that is placed on the men as they carry their supplies on their backs, but the mental and emotional difficulties that weigh them down immeasurably.
His portraits of Ted Lavender and Lieutenant Cross particularly display these intangible burdens: Ted through the vague description of his apparently troubled lifestyle and his own tragic downfall, and Cross through his elaborately described love and anguish that he feels about Martha. O'Brien makes a statement when he allows Ted to die while Cross lives, possibly implying that in order to survive in a desperate situation, one must actually let go of some of the things that he may think he needs to fill the emptiness in his own life. He makes us question our own lives and the things that we may think we need to live, and precisely what holes they may fill. Cross's insight near the end of the story is profound; it is indeed sad, the things that people feel they must bear. Perhaps when one feels the most needy is the time when he must free himself from those excesses that weigh him down and become like the soldiers in their dreams; "they gave themselves over to lightness, they were carried, they were purely borne" (22). Bibliography:.
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