Dulce et Decorum Est and The Things they Carried: Compare & Contrast Essay


The Poem Dulce et Decorum Est and the story The Things they Carried are both about war, but more than fifty years apart. The geography and the weapons have changed, but the conditions are not that different. The men are much the same and war is as brutal as ever. However, in this story, the deaths of the soldiers are mostly clean and quick. The death and destruction they deal with is not. Both these narratives tell the story of the men and how the brutality affects them.

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The poem Dulce et Decorum Est was written during WWI, probably when the poet was in the hospital, recovering from a breakdown, sometimes called shell shock. He eventually went back to the front, and dies just before the armistice. It’s too bad as he might have written much more wonderful poetry. This poem was about what it was like going for a rest after being at the front. It talks about how the soldiers suffered, especially if they got hit by gas, which was later outlawed by the Geneva Convention. The poet describes how one man did not get his gas mask on quickly enough and got hit with chlorine gas. His death was slow and painful. He more or less drowned in his own blood. The poem ends with its title, which means: how sweet and right it is to die for your country. Wilfred Owen’s work was rather didactic but was right for the times.

The story by Tim O’Brian is about the Vietnam War, and the soldiers are making their way through the jungle, carrying out orders and trying to stay alive. It tells us about the useful things they carried and how much weight they were, and also about the sentimental things and the things of comfort, plus the intangible things they carried, like the platoon leader’s guilt for the deaths of his men. We learn a lot about men by the things they carry. We see some of them die and we see them kill and destroy villages. One guy carries the severed thumb of a dead Vietnamese boy soldier. In the beginning, Lieutenant Cross carried letters from a girl who he pretended loved him along with her pictures. After a man dies when he is distracted he burns the letters and pictures, so he won’t be distracted again and lose another man.


Both of these works shock the audience, show the horrifying side of war and paint the ugly picture of the foot soldier. We see death, feel pain and grief and we understand that is an eternity of useless suffering and action. We never see the “enemy” in either narrative, but we see death and pain. In neither one is anything said about why the soldiers fight. We only see them trying to stay alive. That one is told in poetry and one is a short story is a small difference, mostly of length. The story uses poetic devices, like repeating some lines and phrases. We understand that we are simply seeing a slice of life in the Vietnam jungle where these men try to get through the war. We see more in the short story, while the one set of images in the poem is still as powerful for its message. The men in the story seem somehow less human than those in the poem, even though we know them better. It is that they have accepted the situation and when one man dies they wrap him in his rain poncho for pickup and smoke his dope while they wait. They seem desensitized, while the men in the poem are just exhausted. The story does not say anything directly but hints at the futility with the resupply chopper and how the men throw away rations just before it comes so they don’t have to carry them.