Norman Morrison and The Things They Carried

War has such a violent nature that it has affected many individuals in many different ways. The most obvious of these is through the lives of the soldiers who experience it first-hand. However, even those who simply follow its progress and who have empathy for those in the wake of such mass slaughter are affected by the event. Because of the savageness in war and the resulting psychological and emotional effects of this experience on such war-ravaged men, many writers have tried to tackle the subject. Norman Morrison and The Things They Carried are two literary pieces that have reflected the gravity of warfare and its impact on men who have struggled with its violence.

Tim O’Brien and Adrian Mitchell wrote pieces that resounded with their views on war. Both employed the use of the lives of their characters to get a point across to their readers. War is terrible. Its effects echo on in an individual’s life and the images of the terror of war is eternally implanted in the lives of those who survive it. “He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay with one leg bent beneath him, his jaw in his throat, his face neither expressive nor inexpressive. One eye was shut. The other was a star-shaped hole.” (O’Brien, 1998)

The drive of both pieces is to show the effect of the deaths of those considered to be the “enemy” on those involved in the war. War is not indiscriminate hate but indiscriminate killing and both writers condemn these violent acts through their words. O’Brien (1998) shows this clearly through The Man I Killed while Mitchell (1997) does so through the life of a man, Norman Morrison, who fought the war every day in his heart, at home.

The two works are very comprehensive in sharing with the reader the experience of the war and the experience of life after the war. Although the actions of these individual’s are clearly a result of psychological disorders, Tim O’Brien and Adrian Mitchell give their audience a look into the mindsets of those who are actually experiencing these events. It is not a trip into the mind of disturbed individuals who have lost control of themselves but rather it is a clear view into the life of someone who has experienced darkness and terror and who cannot, for the life of him, resolve it with the comforts and peace that he once knew. “All that peace, man, it felt so good it hurt. I want to hurt it back.” (O’Brien, 1998)

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Norman Morrison was a completely new aspect of the war that no one was prepared to see. Although the war’s effects on the soldiers were already clear, its effects on those left “at home” was not. Yes, there were those actively voicing out their concerns about the events, denouncing the war and demanding a stop to the violence, but how far did it go? How far did their empathy for those involved in the war go? Mitchell (1997) answers this for us, “He simply burned away his clothes, his passport, his pink-tinted skin, put on a new skin of flame and became Vietnamese.”

Thus war became not only about those on foreign shores, not only about those holding the guns and the ammunitions. It became something more palpable. It became about everyone who was part of the countries at war. It became about the victims in the country where the war was happening and about those from the opposite country who felt not only for their own soldiers but also for the “innocent” victims.

In conclusion, it can be said that both literary pieces spoke of war. Both presented it through the lives of individuals who were involved in the war. This involvement was broad and included all of those who empathized with the events involved in war and those whose lives were directly affected by the violence. The tragic deaths of those in the path of the savage war were the tipping point that drove many individuals to the brink.


O’Brien, T. (1998). The things they carried. New York: Broadway Books

Mitchell, A. (1997) Norman Morrison. In Out Loud. London: W.H. Allen Publishers

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