The Effects of Death and Traumatic Experiences on Human Behavior by Revati Athavale and Sabrina Robinette

The theme of death in The Things They Carried is illustrated in the chapters “The Things They Carried,” “The Man I Killed, ” and “Style” in order to show that death has the potential to traumatize an individual, causing them to act in a way in which they normally would not. In “The Things They Carried,” Ted Lavender’s death causes Cross, who believes that his love for Martha is the reason for Lavender’s death, to burn his photographs and letters from Martha. Cross forsakes his love for and attachment towards Martha—something he never would have done if it weren’t for Lavender’s death. Death not only causes Jimmy Cross to behave in a manner in which he normally would not, but it also alters the behavior of the narrator, Tim O’Brien, due to trauma, as demonstrated by “The Man I Killed.” In this chapter, Tim is faced with the horrific fact that he has killed a man, and, despite being a soldier, he is still distraught over the unknown Vietnamese man’s death. This results in the formation of a traumatic memory, and Tim’s inability to comprehend what has just happened results in Tim’s inability to properly respond to Kiowa; instead, he continues to stare at the corpse, attempting to understand his circumstances. Tim would not, in any normal circumstance, fail to respond to one of his closest friends, which shows precisely how death has the ability to alter a person’s behavior through the formation of a traumatic experience. Similarly, in the chapter “Style,” the girl is dancing outside of her house, her eyes half closed, and is either ignoring or unaware of the fact that her entire family is dead, most likely the former. One can interpret the girl’s dancing as a coping mechanism for her family’s death; she doesn’t understand how she must react or move on after this frankly traumatizing event, so she dances in an attempt to understand what’s happening around her. It is fairly reasonable to believe that this entranced dancing is something the girl would not normally do.

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