Unlike The Sun Also Rises, O'Brien's title has perceptible reasoning behind it. It immediately develops as a motif used often throughout the first chapter. His narration paints a much more ideal and realistic picture to the reader of what being a soldier was truly like in the Vietnam war.
"The things they carried were largely determined by necessity." (page 2)
"What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty." (page 5)
"They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." (page 7)
"What they carried varied by mission." (page 8)
"The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition." (page 12)
"They carried their own lives. The pressures were enormous." (page 15)
"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die." (page 20)
Each time I reread this phrase, it made me realize just how much these men had at stake. They carried essential items, items for fun, ones for protection, and others for survival. There was nothing happy or easy about being a soldier. It was a lifestyle of fear, hard work, and bearing things that seemed impossible to carry all at once - whether being tangible or intangible. Then it made me start to think about my experience on summer field studies this past summer. When I was on backcountry, I thought I might collapse trying to carry all that ridiculously heavy gear uphill at once. But that must have been how these soldiers felt every step of the way through the terrain of Vietnam. It made me feel bad for complaining when it could have been a much worse situation. At least when I got to the end of the trail there was relief and good times to look forward to. I don't think that was ever the case with these men. I was luckier than I realized.