Tim O’Brien illustrated the emotional strain each solider carried through the various items they carried. Aside from the 25+ lbs of ammunition and rations, they carried their fear of death, their emotional baggage, and secret cowardice. This was shown mostly through the description of Lavender. While some men showed their fear of dying by using “hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness”, Lieutenant Cross used his death to work through his relationship with Martha. He felt shame and responsibility for his death because he thought he focused more of Martha rather than his men. Regardless of the fact that she showed no true interest in him, he held onto her pictures and letter as a way to hold onto something outside the war. He would daydream of NJ and life outside of war while in the trenches or while on look-out as his men went through tunnels.
The things they carried such as pantyhose and bibles and letters held such a strong contrast to the pounds of ammunition and guns. They were all young and afraid of dying. At the same time, they would leave ammunition and rations for the sake of losing weight and moving faster. They would walk towards gunfire and would feel more safety from the bibles than from the things that they were meant to carry. It felt as though the item they brought along represented the “other life” outside of war.
There was also this separation from death. They said it wasn’t “cruelty, just stage presence. they were actors and the war came at the min 3D. When someone dies, it wasn’t quite dying, because in a curious way it seemed scripted… and because they called it by other names, as if to encyst and destroy the reality of death” (1288). All of the soldiers kept talking about it with such disconnect, saying it was like watching a rock fall, no drama, and how it seemed un-Christian to feel relief that it was not them. The lieutenant even cried not because of the death itself but because he loved Martha so much that he was distracted from his work. The death only represented his shame in his leadership skills, not that he missed Lavender at all.
The solider that carried the thumb also struck me in the story. He kept talking about the moral of the story and brought it up twice. It seemed as though his point was, there was no point; that he can kick a dead body and take the boy’s thumb but it means nothing. The war meant nothing, and they all joined because of the fear of being humiliated not because of what it represented.