Date of Award
This study explores the presence of homosocial bonds for Tim O’Brien’s characters in his short story collection, The Things They Carried, and examines the value of them for soldiers in and out of the war theatre. Their vulnerabilities and fragilities create for the soldiers false fronts of masculinity, and they attain comfort in and attach themselves to others with whom they share military experiences. Members of Alpha Company deal with both physical and mental burdens stemming from battle. Their timidity and emotional / physical ineptness complicate their being able to have honest and affectionate interactions with other men in the platoon, in spite of needing those in order to ease anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. Soldiers generally find civilians unable to recognize the burdens and trials soldiers bear: loved ones cannot understand their being scared and / or uninterested in taking part in war; their longing for and need to escape to what was left behind, and most importantly, their striving against emasculative moments.
The final focus in the paper considers transitioning among the Alpha Company men from soldier to civilian, highlighting the difficulties of acclimating to peace-time society. Many of the men feel inadequate, unsure how to position themselves in a society that has drastically changed since they left it— and since they have been left behind by it. O’Brien’s characters—himself included—are caught between fantasy and reality, a forced rift between some ideal of comradeship and the reality of patriarchal and national images they have been expected to embrace. The need to excel in war in a manly way proves to be the heaviest weight the men have carried, but the homosocial bonds the soldiers form during war create formidable and lasting ties that sustain these men, permitting them to stay above the killing and destruction that embodied Vietnam.
Young, Cliffton M., "“Not to Be Loved but to Lead”: Homosocial Soldiering in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried" (2019). Masters Theses. 950.