This book was considered to be a great work of fiction on the Vietnam War. O'Brien had felt that his message would better be conveyed if he would share his experiences in a fictional form rather than merely narrating the incidents. And that is why he wrote, "Things they carried", which went on to become an excellent work of fiction. Although Vietnam War is a history now it is eternal in the form of this work of fiction and a person can retrieve it whenever he wishes to know about it, as it is in the form of a book.
Tim O'Brien has made a very effective and creative use of the literary device of 'symbolism' in his narrative. According to Jay Braiman, "Literary devices refers to specific aspects of literature, in the sense of its universal function as an art form which expresses ideas through language, which we can recognize, identify, interpret and/or analyze. Literary devices collectively comprise the art form's components; the means by which authors create meaning through language, and by which readers gain understanding of and appreciation for their works. They also provide a conceptual framework for comparing individual literary works to others, both within and across genres. Both literary elements and literary techniques can rightly be called literary devices".
In the first chapter of "Things they carried", we are introduced to the different characters and the theme of this novel. The setting of the novel is of war front, but there is no war as such. Tim O'Brien describes various activities of the soldiers and their thoughts and feelings. These soldiers have come to fight the war, not out of will or choice but because they are forced to do so. They are seen carrying ration supplies and other heavy loads. They are described carrying all the things, tangible as well as intangible, while going on their way to the battlefield. The things, which he describes in this story, are not merely to be perceived as things literally, but they are symbolic of their personality. And this is the technique of Tim O'Brien that makes the narrative very interesting. In the first chapter we are introduced to not only the anonymous narrator of this story but also to the protagonist, Lt. Johnny Cross and the other members of his platoon. The soldiers in his platoon are very young men who are participating in this war against their wish and are not prepared for the same. These soldiers have strange experiences and they just lose their sense of thinking rationally. They don't know what to do, as there is no war as such and are worried as to what their family members would think of them.
Their mind still seems to linger in the memories of the past, before setting out for war. They are described to have carried lot of things, most, of which they get from home and the other things, which are related to war. He has given a very vivid description of what the soldiers had carried along with them. Firstly, we come to know about Lt. Johnny Cross. He is carrying the letters from Martha, a girl who was long back studying in New Jersey, whom he dated before he left for war. He loves her immensely. But he is unsure whether she equally loves him or not. Her thoughts keep on haunting his mind and he is so engrossed in her thoughts that he is sometimes distracted from his duties. Johnny carries two photos of Martha. In one photo she is leaning against a wall and he wonders who must have had taken her photo, and in the other she is seen playing volleyball.