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Malcolm D. Ervin Professor Kristen Raymond English 1101 28 September 2011 Pebble: The Symbol of Emotion In The Things They Carried, O’Brien talks about many of the objects that he and his comrades carried while they were in Vietnam. They carried things like food, water, weapons and ammunition. They also carried comfort items like tranquilizers and M&M’s.
Although the weight of these things placed a physical burden on the soldiers, it was the emotional weight that each of the soldiers carried that took the heaviest toll on them. The pebble, carried by Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, symbolizes multiple things that evolve throughout the text.
It will prove to be a source of comfort, anguish, and relief to him. Lt. Cross was madly in love with Martha, a woman he dated once in New Jersey.
She sent him letters that he kept in the bottom of his rucksack but those meant absolutely nothing in comparison to the pebble. Martha found the pebble on the Jersey Shoreline, precisely where the land met the water at high tide. “In the first week of April, before Lavender died, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross received a good-luck charm from Martha. It was a simple pebble, an ounce at most. Smooth to the touch, it was a milky white color with flecks of orange and violet, oval shaped, like a miniature egg.
In the accompanying letter, Martha wrote that she had found the pebble on the Jersey shoreline, precisely where the land touched water at high tide, where things came together but also separated “(O’Brien pg. 9). The pebble at this point acts as a symbol for Martha. It is a Martha that Lt. Cross can feel, kiss, and smell. It allows Cross to think about the relationship between him and Martha. He often spent his evenings daydreaming about Martha form camping in the mountains to relaxing on the beach. With the pebble, Cross can picture Martha walking barefoot on the Jersey Shoreline.
He could see her bending over, right where the land met the water, and picking up the pebble. The pebble allows Cross to have a “Martha” with him in the jungle, under his tongue. Tina Chen agrees with this observation. “Martha’s explanation of how she carries the pebble with her and finally sends it to Lieutenant Cross as a “token of her truest feelings” works to figure the pebble as a metonym for her. Cross actualizes this figural relationship when he “carries the pebble in his mouth” and imagines that it is her tongue. ” (Chen pg. 85) Cross imagines Martha’s feet walking along the shore.
He gets that image frequently. He often thinks about who she’s with at the beach. The pebble is his only connection with Martha and their separated relationship. The pebble was very important to Lt. Cross. It symbolized the complexity of the relationship he and Martha had. “It was this separate-but-together quality, she wrote, that had inspired her to pick up the pebble and to carry it in her breast pocket for several days, where it seemed weightless, and then to send it through the mail, by air, as a token of her truest feelings for him”(O’Brien pg. 9).
Martha Although Cross didn’t realize her meaning, the pebble, found separate but together, was a token of love. Although this “love” wasn’t the same mutual love that Jimmy had for Martha, the relationship between them was like the pebble, separate but together. “On the march, through the hot days of early April, he carried the pebble in his mouth, turning it with his tongue, tasting sea salt and moisture” (O’Brien pg. 9). The pebble allowed Cross to imagine himself, together with Martha, often impairing his judgment during the day. That gave him a since of solace, keeping him sane to a certain extent.
Lt. Cross felt horrible after Ted Lavender died. It was his fault because his mid was always on Martha. “…First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross crouched at the bottom of his foxhole and burned Martha’s letters. Then he burned the two photographs. … but he used heat tabs and Sterno to build a small fire, screening it with his body, holding the photographs over the tight blue flame with the tips of his fingers”(O’Brien pg. 20). Cross thinks that destroying the things that remind him of Martha will put his mind at ease, knowing that Lavender was killed on his watch. Moments before Ted Lavender, a doped-up, sleepy-eyed member of Alpha Company, is shot while “on his way back from peeing,” Lieutenant Cross is “not there” because he was buried with Martha under the white sand at the Jersey shore. They were pressed together, and the pebble in his mouth was her tongue. He was smiling. Vaguely, he was aware of how quiet the day was, the sullen paddies, yet he could not bring himself to worry about matters of security” (Chen 86). Cross was too busy dreaming about being at home with Martha to realize that his friend was in danger. He was not “there”. Although he was in his ox hole making out with a pebble, in Cross’ mind, he is on the beach in New Jersey making out with Martha. The pebble symbolizes his love for Martha. He destroyed the letters and the pictures Martha sent him after Lavender’s death. The one thing he couldn’t destroy was the pebble. He could have thrown it away, but it would still exist. Just like his love for Martha, the pebble couldn’t be rubbed out of existence. Even after the war, when Martha told him she would never get married, he still loved her as much as he did back in Vietnam despite the fact that she didn’t love him in the same way. She had never married, she said, and probably never would. She didn’t know why. But as she said this, her eyes seemed to slide sideways, and it occurred to him that there were things about her he would never know” (O’Brien pg. 26). The pebble in The Things They Carried symbolizes Martha, a woman who would never love Lt. Cross the same way he loved her, a complex relationship, and an undying symbol of love and affection that can never be destroyed. The pebble has a powerful significance in the life of Lt. Jimmy Cross. It has caused him happiness and grief.
Although there relationship would never be, the pebble always gave Jimmy hope, an emotion that many soldiers of that era lacked. Cross’s situation is unfortunate. He is in love with a woman thousands of miles away who doesn’t share the same sentiment on that love and all he has is a pebble so powerful, it not only gives him hope, but something to pour all that love and affection into. Works Cited Chen, Tina. ” “Unraveling the Deeper Meaning” Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim. ” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring, 1998), (1998): pp. 77-98.