According to Tuan, “intimate experiences lie buried in our innermost being so that not only do we lack the words to give them form but often we are not even aware of them. When, for some reason, they flash to the surface of our consciousness they evince a poignancy that the more deliberative acts – the actively sought experiences – cannot match” (Tuan 136). The point that Tuan makes about intimate experiences correlates very well with the story “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. The story is about how First Lieutenant Cross (the main character) goes to war, leading many men, and carries the heavy load of his own intimate experience from home. Her name was Martha and she was constantly on Cross’ mind. So much so, that he did not concentrate on the war in front of him as he should. He was always daydreaming and imaging memories he had of her, although, many of those memories seemed to be about something he wanted to do with her in the future and not a time he had shared with her. “He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire” (O’Brien 596). It was almost as if he was fighting this war for her. “To carry something was to hump it, as when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hill and through the swamps” (O’Brien 597).
Tuan also states, “Intimate occasion are often those on which we become passive and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, exposed to the caress and sting of new experience” (Tuan 137). This is a main theme in the story “The Things They Carried” – vulnerability. Lieutenant Cross allowed himself to get so wrapped up in his own memories of Martha, his own intimate experience of her, that he let it get the best of him. He did not focus on his role that was supposed to be played as Lieutenant and let one of his men die. “He felt shame. He hated himself. He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war” (O’Brien 602). He had taken his daydreaming so far that it carried into the real world and obstructed what was really important.
I feel that the title of the story is a very important part of understanding the entirety of the story. While reading, the narrator continually listed the items, weapons, and other objects that the men carried throughout their journey at war. There were certain things needed for certain occasions, but one thing they carried they all had in common – their own intimate experiences. Unfortunately Lieutenant Cross discovered his intimate experience negatively effected him, which he will never forgive himself for. In conclusion, he now has another thing to carry for the rest of the war and that is a burden.