In Tim O’Brien’s short story, “The Things They Carried,” it is clear that Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is suffering from a burden both mental and physical. First, his love for Martha is purely physical, even though he may not recognize that fact. He is literally obsessed with thinking about whether or not she is a virgin. He wonders why she signs her letters with the word “love.” He thinks about the time he touched her knee in the movie theater and becomes infatuated with the idea of tying her up and touching her knee all night. O’Brien writes, “Whenever he looked at the photographs, he thought of new things he should have done” (1003).
This passage implies that he often spent his time daydreaming about sexual fantasies involving Martha. These daydreams depict his physical burden, one of the many things that Jimmy Cross “carries” to the war in Vietnam. Even though it may not be a real object, he is burdened by his obsession with physical lust for Martha. However, after the death of Ted Lavender, Cross takes on a new mental burden. On the way back from using the bathroom, Lavender is shot in the head. Cross feels that, because he is the Lieutenant of the troop, he is held accountable for the life of all of his men, including Lavender. He believes that it is his fault that Lavender died because he was too busy daydreaming about Martha, as usual. He starts to feel guilty because he believed that he was responsible for Lavender’s death because he should have been more focused on watching out for his men. He deals with this mental burden by burning Martha’s pictures and letters.
In Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire,” it is difficult to sympathize with the main character. The man does not seem to be afraid of the freezing temperatures, not because he is ignorant, but because he feels as if he is too manly to succumb to such a danger. London writes, “What was a little frost? A bit painful, that was all. It was never serious” (68). This passage shows that the man showed little concern for his safety in such dangerous conditions, which makes the reader have a difficult time feeling sorry for him in the long run.
This feeling is strengthened when we learn that the man has been given advice never to travel alone when it is fifty below zero. He quickly learns the seriousness of the matter when London writes, “That man from Sulpher Creek had spoken the truth when telling how cold it sometimes got in this country. And he laughed at him at the time!” (70). This example proves that the man should have done more to protect himself from the weather. Because he did not, he ends up dying in the end of the story, but it is hard to express sympathy for him as a result of his carefree attitude.
These two stories relate to each other in several ways. For one thing, both of the main characters seem very selfish and egotistical. Jimmy Cross is too concerned with his own physical desires to keep an eye on his men in the war while the man from London’s story is too caught up in himself to realize that he is not Superman. Both stories also focus on the immediate surroundings and personal feelings of their main character. Each author gives us details about what the characters are experiencing and thinking about. This helps the reader to relate to the characters in the story.