The Things They Carried Essay

1646 words - 7 pages

Joy Kogawa and Tim O’Brien: two authors that have wielded their mastery of the English language to yield literary masterpieces that reflect not only their own struggles, but the hardships of multitudes around them. In her acclaimed Obasan, Joy Kogawa illustrates the intense discrimination that was faced by Japanese-Canadians during World War 2, and provides many reflective anecdotes to give the reader some insight on her personal situation. Tim O’Brien accomplishes basically the same goal in The Things They Carried by giving the reader many brief stories about his time in the Vietnam War. These two books- though incredibly different on the surface - share a plethora of themes and symbology, as well as many similar events. They do not, however, emphasize or present these ideas in the same way. Each of these authors has a unique way of incorporating their own themes or values into their writing, which gives the reader an entirely different view of what may be happening.
The brain is an amazing thing. It allows us to think, blink, walk and talk; it enables us to run, hide, seek, and stride; but most importantly, it allows us to remember. Neither literary work takes a firm stance on their opinion of memories, as both have many different characters with many different opinions. Naomi views and even loosely mirrors Obasan’s opinions on memory; that the past be left to the past and the future will bear what is to come (65 Kogawa). This “Ashes to Ashes” stance is mirrored by Rat Kiley in The Things They Carried (SparkNotes Editors). Though Obasan has a much tougher exterior and is able to keep her composure, they are both haunted by cruel memories that they are trying to suppress. Rat, however, doesn’t have as much luck as Obasan. As he tries to suppress his disturbing memories, he becomes more and more convinced that “The bugs are out to get [him]” (114 O’Brien). Finally Rat shoots himself in the foot to get deported back home, proving that suppressing the memories isn’t the best course of action.
As Obasan progresses, Naomi’s view on memories shifts from somewhat ambiguous to a firmer stance: that they are somewhat necessary (SparkNotes Editors). Though inconvenienced by some of them, she realizes that you cannot run from your past, and the only way is to make it through and find some way to cope. It took Naomi many many years of persuasion to arrive at this conclusion, mostly prodded by her Aunt Emily. While still a young child, Naomi equated her memories to the small bits of food Obasan always saved and forgot about; they’re only painful (or disgusting) if brought out into the open. As long as they stay hidden or suppressed, everything is fine (54 Kogawa). There is a point when Aunt Emily is prodding, trying to make Naomi remember a painful childhood. “Aunt Emily, are you a surgeon cutting at my scalp . . . bring on the chloroform” (232-233 Kogawa). Naomi equates “remembering” to an extremely painful surgical procedure;...

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