Literary Techniques in The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Patriotism by Yukio Mishima

The Things They Carried by O’Brien is a war story. O’Brien develops the themes of memories, imagination and escape from reality during all his novel. The author uses artistic detail as the main source of information about his characters. He describes the things soldiers carry with them for us to make a better idea about the characters. This technique has double meaning in this story, to my mind. First of all, the author underlines how important can be minor details and how it becomes possible to make an opinion about the person examining only small things he carries with him. Another meaning of the using of the artistic detail in the story is an attempt to make it more realistic and let the reader feel the world of the story created by the author. Describing such things as the weight of the weapon or the weight of the radio makes the reader feel the reality better. These skillfully chosen details fill in the story with life and make the reader the participant of the events described. The protagonist of the story, Lt. Cross can not escape the reality of the war and tries to escape to the imaginary world thinking of his beloved Martha. He carries Martha’s letter and pictures as the physical proof of their love. During the difficult times he doesn’t turn to memories about Martha but escapes to imaginary world imagining what they might have done if they were together. Lt. Cross realizes his guilt after the death of his Lavender and burns Martha’s letters. He is not able to burn his memories, though. The author shows that slow transformation that happens to Cross. Thoughts about the beloved one, so light and innocent in the beginning, become overshadowed by the feeling of guilt at the end of the story. Burning the letters is a very symbolic act used by the author to underline the transformation of the main character and his passing from the world of dreams to reality.
Short story Patriot by Yukio Mishima has very simple plot. Lieutenant Takeyama comes back to his house after the fail of state coup, spends some time with his new wife and commits sepukku (ritual suicide). His wife follows him. The scene of sepukku occupies the most part of the story. Mishima doesn’t miss anything in his detailed description and each detail has its meaning and takes the reader closer to the climax of the story - the moment of lieutenant’s death. The author’s language is rich and poetic. Mishima skillfully combines the experience of Japanese literary tradition with his own style creating a modern literary work, which embodies the centuries of Japanese traditions. What is interesting, the reader can concentrate on the act itself because we know about the suicide of the main characters from the very beginning of the story. Little note telling about the suicide of Lieutenant Takeyaman and his wife opens this story. This was done in order to switch reader’s attention from the development of the plot to the inner feelings of the main characters and driving motives of their behavior. Loyalty, dignity and patriotism are the main themes of the story. Mashima manages to combine two most important values of Japanese noble man - state and family in one short story. All the story is a reminiscent of methodical stages young family couple goes through getting ready for suicide. Calmness and accuracy of preparations becomes shocking sometimes. The depiction of each detail of the rituals and calmness of the main characters makes a great resonance with their preparation for sepukku. Sometimes it seems that the story will last forever but the technique of suspense skillfully used by the author makes the climax of the story brighter. The story is written in the middle of the last century but it perfectly represents the bushido (codex of samurai behavior) way of life and reflects the author’s ideals. At the same time the story is full of passion, which looks only brighter on the background of coming death. The author describes passionate night the couple spends together before the suicide with magnificent combination of calmness in front of the death and passion. “Even in bed these two were frighteningly and awesomely serious.”(Mishima, 87)

The stories seem very different. They are written by different authors from different countries and depict different events. But we can see a lot of similarities if we study them closer. Both authors pay special attention to the artistic details as literary techniques. In both stories details help the authors to create a realistic atmosphere and help the readers to penetrate deeper into the events described there. Martha’s letters and pictures and O’Brien’s story and picture of newly marries couple, swards and dagger in Mishima’s story serve the same purpose. Detailed depictions in both stories serve as one of the main means of delivering the authors’ messages. Mishima’s Patriotism is a retrospective story as it recalls past events after the announcement about the deaths of the main characters. O’Brien puts the events in usual chronological order. Main topics of love, death and duty overlap in these two stories. The topic of death is explored in both stories. O’Brien depicts the fear of the main character and his wish to escape to the world of dreams and memories. Mishima shows dignity and honor his main characters meet the death with. In The Things They Carry O’Brien depicts the choice the main character makes between love and duty. For Mishima’s character the question of choice doesn’t even appear. Infinite devotion of the emperor and political ideals leave no space for doubts in the mind of main Lt. Takeyama and his wife.

1. O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990
2. Mishima, Yukio Death in Midsummer and Other Stories
New York, NY, U.S.A. New Directions Publishing Corporation. 1966

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