Friends by Tim O’Brien
In Friends by Tim O’Brien we have the theme of trust, friendship, connection and desperation. Taken from his The Things They Carried collection the story is narrated in the first person by O’Brien himself and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that O’Brien may be exploring the theme of trust. Jensen and Strunk are not yet friends though they do work together and trust each other. This may be significant as it is possible that O’Brien is suggesting that despite trusting each other Jensen and Strunk because of their past are yet to become friends. Though they do become friends as the story progresses. In fact so trustful are Jensen and Strunk of each other that they sign a pact giving the other person the right to kill them should they receive a catastrophe injury while in combat. So serious are they that they get some of the men in the platoon to witness the document that they sign. It is a promise to one another that inevitably connects them to each other.
The theme of desperation is self-evident in the story. When Strunk stands on the mine and loses his leg he is desperate that the pact he signed with Jensen is not followed through. In fact on two occasions Strunk begs Jensen not to kill him. This might be significant as Strunk is really putting his trust in Jensen who obliges Strunk and does not kill him. It is as though Strunk sees some hope that he can still live a normal life. Unfortunately for Strunk he dies on the way to the hospital. Possibly due to the loss of blood and the severity of his injury. This is a great relief to Jensen. He may have lost a friend but he is not responsible for killing Strunk
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The fact that Jensen and Strunk become friends after their previous altercation may suggest that even in the heat of battle enemies can become friends. The fact that Jensen signed a pact with Strunk is symbolic too. It symbolises the connection that both men have with one another and how serious they are about getting severely injured and rather than living their lives in a wheelchair they want the other to kill them. The helicopter that flies Strunk to the hospital may symbolise freedom. Though in Strunk’s case he receives the ultimate freedom, death. O’Brien’s role in the story is as an observer. It is through his eyes that we get an insight in Jensen and Strunk’s relationship. O’Brien can also be trusted as a narrator as he has no real involvement in the story. He is merely relaying the details to the reader.
The end of the story is interesting as Jensen feels a weight lifting off his shoulders when Strunk gets into the helicopter. He is relieved that he does not have to kill Strunk despite their agreement. The will to live for Strunk is greater than the desire to die. A very human reaction to a situation that Strunk really has no control over. He dies in the helicopter with none of his friends around him. Something that some readers might find sad. Though it does highlight how extraordinary war actual is. Strunk gave his life for his country. Something that may not be recognised by others. After the war soldiers who fought in Vietnam were ostracised by society and found it hard to readjust to civilian life. Society in general frowned upon the soldiers and did not give them the respect they deserved. Soldiers fought for their country only to be alienated by the American public. Also many of the soldiers came back from Vietnam with mental scars that were never treated and never healed. In many cases the mental scars were as traumatic as the physical injuries some of the soldiers received. In reality America fought a war that the public did not want and as such soldiers were on the receiving end of the public’s anger.