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Imagery as a Reflection of Themes

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Imagery as a Reflection of Themes

There is nothing more elating than seeing what you are reading. This doesn’t mean literally seeing what the words on the book but being so deep immersed by a story in that you are drawn from reality and feel like an additional and unmentioned piece in a narrative or a story. In the short story, The Things They Carry, by Tim O’Brien shows imagery at its best. Two sentences into the narrative and it is a guarantee that the reader will have stepped out of reality and would be marching with Lieutenant Jimmy Cross across Vietnam. Imagery ideally can be used to bring out themes such as love, hope and famously as in the story, burdens.

Visual imagery is one of the most used type of imagery in the story. The vivid description of the area in which the troops marched in and the imagination of Lieutenant Cross with Martha give us a rough idea of the difference in the two locations. On one hand the author manages to give us a visual image of Martha and alongside that, the imagination of Lieutenant Cross to with her. Through the photos, we can imagine Martha with the white shorts and visualize her playing volleyball, knee bent and palm outstretched. We create our own vision of her beauty. At the same time we see Cross’s imagination of Martha picking the pebble and we also see how Lieutenant Cross carrying it in his mouth always.

Imagery can bring out the theme of Love in this narrative. As the author makes us visualize on how Lieutenant Cross clanged onto the pebble sent to him from Martha. We can visualize the salty taste of the pebble and at the same time rooted into our minds is the location of where the pebble was picked and most importantly who picked it. We feel as to why Lieutenant Cross would cherish such a pebble and it is only because it was handpicked by the woman whom he loved. He constantly visualizing Martha picking the stone made him feel that it is a special stone it having passed through her touch. Jealousy out of his love for her comes from the visual imagery of her picking up the rock amongst her peers who were likely to be men. As readers, we get a heightened sense of love from the imagery of the beauty of Martha, the feel of her smooth knee when he touched her and the taste of the pebble picked by her.

The theme of hope is also clearly defined by imagery in the story. A clear indication of hope is in Lieutenant Cross as he imagines how it could be if he was with Martha. He would imagine her gentle touch and the taste of her lips. Furthermore, by seeing her legs in the photo, he gave himself a sense of belief that she is a virgin and would still be a virgin when he returns from the war. All these hopes came from visualization which are shown very well by the author in the story. “On occasion he would yell at his men to spread out the column, to keep their eyes open, but then he would slip away into daydreams, just pretending, walking barefoot along the Jersey shore, with Martha, carrying nothing” (Obrien, 1979).

The theme of war and its effects is brought out by imagery and the immense tragedy can be felt, heard and seen through the author’s words. The death of Ted Lavender gives us a rough idea of the harsh effects of war. The visual imagery of a young man walking off to quickly relieve himself then being suddenly shot gives a harsh reality. One second he is there and the other he has a whole in his cheeks. We can see a whole village being burnt after that and the sound of chicken and dogs being shot. The smell of burnt trees and reeking blood. Being tired after long marches and carrying heavy equipment and guns. The cold in the night and the heavy damp air before rain. All these those soldiers had to go through because of the war.

One of the main themes, Burden, is clearly audited by the author using imagery. At first we have the physical burdens of what the soldiers had to carry at always during the war. As an “RTO, Mitchell Sanders carried the PRC-25 radio, a killer, 26 pounds with its battery” (O’Brien, 1979). The soldiers had to carry a lot of equipment and the author’s choice to mention the weight of the items, imagery is in showing the burdens they had to carry through with. There were Standard Order Procedure (SOP) items which were supposed to be carried at all times and there were those that individuals chose to carry by choice.

The visualization of the physical baggage give us a rough idea of the burdens soldiers carry during the war. The reader can picture themselves having to carry SOP items and being equipped in them such as a heavy helmet, boots, a poncho and camouflage linen among other necessities. We are given a visualization and a feel of them marching with their equipment and their guns through the fields. When it is hot the equipment feel heavier and the same comes to be when it is raining.

Emotional burdens is also enhanced through imagery by the author in the story. The Lieutenant’s emotional burden was the guilt of not taking into attention of his men as much as he did Martha. Imagery supports this statement by the visualization of the times instead of seriously tending to his men he would keep imagining how things were going with Martha. “Trouble, he thought—a cave-in maybe. And then suddenly, without willing it, he was thinking about Martha.” (Obrien, 1979). He felt remorseful for this as it was moments before the death of Lavender which he would go on blaming himself. Kiowa after Lavenders death, in a bout of imagery we are told felt nice to be in his boots and enjoying the smell of the bible. We can picture ourselves like him being happy to be alive and feeling against the practices of the religion we believe in by not feeling remorseful for the death of a partner.

Aside from that, there are some elements of superstition. A mental picture of a person walking around with a thumb seems absurd only to be made somewhat understandable that it is a source of hope to the bearer. Lieutenant Cross believes that walking with the lucky pebble would bring him luck and the moment he decided to throw away the pebble showed that he was done with that belief.

Imagery is arguably the most used stylistic device by the author in this short story. The imagery, however, does not only heighten our senses but it opens the door to the themes of the story. Through the imaginations of the protagonist we find love and hope, through the explanation of the setting we realize the effects of the war and the description of the items the military men had we can find sensible the theme of burdens. The author uses imagery to root for the themes he is bringing about in the narrative. It is indeed true that imagery is used to introduce themes in the story.


Literary Devices. (2017, May 1). Retrieved December 5, 2017, from

Hackmann, A., Bennett-Levy, J., & Holmes, E. A. (2013). Oxford guide to imagery in cognitive therapy.

O’Brien, T. (1979). The things they carried.

This is a fine analysis of the power of this story’s well-crafted imagery, Angelica. You start out with a great description of the power of scene in fiction to transport readers to another place, and then you give good attention to several descriptive passages in the story. You do a good job contrasting the imagined scenes with Martha and the scenes of war that LT Cross experiences in the moment. 

But there’s something missing. You need to add a paragraph on the scene where he burns Martha’s letters, because that’s the story’s crisis scene, and it’s central to understanding the story’s message about the emotional sacrifice of young men in combat, who can’t afford the luxury of having a crush on a girl like other guys their age. 

  • Things They Carried
  • by Things They

    Submission date: 14-Mar-2020 12:40PM (UTC-0500)
    Submission ID: 1275525109
    File name: Imagery_as_a_source_of_themes x (19.37K)
    Word count: 1239
    Character count: 5563





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    Things They Carried


    Submitted to Sacred Heart Prep
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    Submitted to John Paul II High School
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      Things They Carried
      by Things They
      Things They Carried

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