Thematic Analysis The Things They Carried and Slaughterhouse Five Essay

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Destructiveness of War in "The Things They Carried" and "Slaughterhouse Five"


“The Things They Carried” is a series of stories in which the narrator Tim O’Brien describes the experience of soldiers in the war. The term denotes the things that the soldiers came with to war. Some of the things are intangible such as fear and guilt while others are physical things such as M-16 rifles, morphine, and matches among others. When Lavender is shot during the war, Lieutenant Cross feels guilty for causing his death (O’Brien 56). However, he destructs himself from guilt by thinking about his old crush Martha. The story “On the Rainy River,” recounts the events that led the narrator to the Vietnam War. The story of “The Dentist” gives the story of Lemon a soldier who fainted during the regular military dental check-up and insisted that a proper tooth had to be removed to save his face. In summary, the stories in this book recount the experience of soldiers during the Vietnam War and the guilt and fear they have lived with since the war.

The "Slaughterhouse Five" is the story of Billy Pilgrim who travels through time on several occasions and has no power to control where he lands. As such, the story lacks a chronological order. Born in 1922, Billy studied thoroughly through his high school and was able to join School of Optometry for night classes. He was later enrolled in the army during the Second World War. Billy is moved to Germany where he joins a group of prisoners who were initially army officers but were also captured during the war. Billy then moves to Dresden where he is forced to work in different forms of labor alongside other army officers captured. At this point, he survives an attempt of suffocation through withdrawal of oxygen that killed 130,000 people (Vonnegut 54). Billy then returns home to complete his course in Optometry. He later engaged to the daughter of the founder of the school, and they get married. He is set up for the optometry business having been funded by his father in law where he succeeds.


Despite the differences in "The Things They Carried" and "Slaughterhouse Five,” the stories seem to point to several similar themes. For instance, both books point to the theme of the destructiveness of war for the soldiers involved. It is often assumed the soldiers who engage in war are well prepared both physically and psychologically for the effects of such war. However, this apparent preparedness does not immune the soldiers to the aftermath war experience.

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Most soldiers suffer the effect of the war both physically and psychologically for the rest of their lives. The two stories exemplify the effect of the war on soldiers in the aftermath of the war and communicate the theme of the destructive impact of wars in different ways.

Several events in both books affect the soldiers both psychologically and physically. In the "Slaughterhouse Five," the events that greatly affect the army officers and soldiers include the firebombing of Dresden in Germany that led to a large-scale destruction of property as well and death of many people. Billy Pilgrim survives death by asphyxiation and witnesses the death of over 130,000 people (Vonnegut 66). These events among others have a great physiological effect on Billy who is the main protagonist in this story. Similarly, “The Things They Carried” exhibits several occurrences that could potentially affect the army officers in different ways both physically and emotionally. The central traumatizing experience in the book involves the witnessing of the death of several army men and women. Some of the soldiers who died include Ted Lavender, Curt Lemon, and Kiowa among others. The deaths of each of these soldiers affect their colleagues and cause them some emotional pain.

The events each of the traumatizing events described above bears significant physical and psychological consequences on the soldiers who survive the war. Billy pilgrims suffer significant emotional and mental effects owing to his engagement in war. For instance, he cannot connect with his son. Although they leave together, in the same house and Billy has become rich, they do not seem to understand each other. The experience of war has served to create the symptom of withdrawal in Billy to the extent that he is no longer in connection with the reality surrounding him (Park 141). The absent-mindedness makes him ignore his son and his progress in life. Therefore, the traumatic experience of war has hurt the cohesiveness of Billy’s family.

Secondly, Billy has equally suffered physical pain and suffering because of his engagement in war. For example, Billy suffers a nervous breakdown and ha to be hospitalized. Although the author does not expressly attribute the occurrence of this disease to the involvement in the flow of the story indicates a correlation between the two circumstances. The fact that the author places the occurrence of the disease right after the experience in the war is an indicator that the war could have been the main cause of….....

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Work Cited

Blyn, Robin. “O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” The Explicator, vol. 61, no. 3, 2014, pp. 189–191.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.

Park, Byungjoo. “Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five: Postmodern Narrative and History Rewriting.” The Jungang Journal of English Language and Literature, vol. 56, no. 4, 2014, pp. 135–151.

Ruff, John. “The Good News (and Who’s Listening) in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” Expositions, vol. 3, no. 2, 2013, pp. 41–56.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The children crusade: a duty-Dance with death. Dell Pub., 2008.

Won, Chul. “Slaughterhouse-Five: The World and the Subjectivity.” The New Korean Journal of English Language & Literature, vol. 50, no. 2, 2010, pp. 95–111.

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