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The Things They Carried
[PDF] The Things They Carried PDF by Tim O’Brien
No. Of Pages: 158
PDF Size: 830 KB
Language: English
Category: eBooks & Novels
Author: Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried Summary

Tim O’Brien, the protagonist, starts by recounting an incident that happened in the midst of his Vietnam experience. “The Things They Carried” details the many items that his Alpha Company comrades packed on their missions. Several of these items are intangible, such as shame and terror, while others, such as matches, morphine, M-16 guns, and M & M candies, are concrete.

The same characters feature in many tales throughout the anthology. Ted Lavender, a “grunt,” or low-ranking soldier, was the first member of the Alpha Company to die. He copes with his nervousness about the war by taking tranquillizers and using marijuana. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, Lavender’s boss, blames himself for the catastrophe when Lavender is shot in the head on his way back from the restroom. Cross is distracted by memories of Martha, a college crush, when Lavender is shot. In “Love,” it is revealed that Cross’s love for Martha, whom he dated briefly before departing for Vietnam, was never returned and that his remorse over Lavender’s murder persists even twenty years later.

In “On the Rainy River,” the narrator, O’Brien, recalls the circumstances that brought him to Vietnam in the first place. In June 1968, he gets his conscription notice, and his emotions of bewilderment push him north to the Canadian border, which he considers crossing in order to avoid being compelled to fight in a war in which he does not believe. Sitting in a canoe with the owner of the Tip Top Lodge, where he is staying, O’Brien determines that his guilt about fleeing the war and his dread of failing his family are more important than his political beliefs. He leaves quickly, first going back to Worthington, Minnesota, and then to Vietnam.

Curt Lemon is murdered when he walks on a rigged mortar shell, and a few other members of the Alpha Company are slain on their assignment abroad, including Ted Lavender. Despite not knowing Lemon, O’Brien relates a narrative in “The Dentist” about how Lemon, who passes out before a normal exam with an army-issued dentist, attempts to save face by insisting on having a perfectly excellent tooth extracted. Lee Strunk, another company member, died as a result of injuries he received after stepping on a landmine. In “Friends,” O’Brien recalls Strunk and Dave Jensen making a bargain before Strunk was severely injured: if one guy was irreversibly damaged, the other would ensure that he was promptly dead. Strunk, on the other hand, begs Jensen to spare him when he is genuinely harmed, and Jensen agrees. Jensen feels relieved rather than saddened by his friend’s death while on his way to treatment.

The death of Kiowa, a beloved member of the Alpha Company and one of O’Brien’s closest friends, gets the greatest attention in The Things They Carried. The account of Kiowa’s death is told in hindsight via Norman Bowker’s memories years after the war in “Speaking of Courage.” Bowker is driving around a lake in his hometown of Iowa, thinking about how he failed to help Kiowa, who was murdered when a mortar fire struck him, sending him headlong into a marshy field. O’Brien understands that, unlike Norman Bowker in “Notes,” he has coped with his remorse over Kiowa’s death in a different way. O’Brien gets a lengthy letter from Bowker just before the war’s conclusion, in which he states that he hasn’t found a means to make life meaningful after the conflict. To deal with his own emotions of remorse and hollowness, O’Brien vows to share Bowker’s narrative, as well as the account of Kiowa’s death.

Several of O’Brien’s works, including “Love” and “Notes,” are recounted from the viewpoint of a forty-three-year-old writer living in Massachusetts twenty years after the Vietnam War. As a result of being exposed to the guilt of old pals like Jimmy Cross and Norman Bowker, he begins to create tales to try to comprehend what they were going through. However, two pieces, “The Guy I Killed” and “Ambush,” are created so that O’Brien may address his own guilt for murdering a man with a grenade outside of My Khe’s hamlet. In “The Man I Killed,” O’Brien imagines his victim’s life from boyhood through what would have happened if O’Brien hadn’t discovered him on a walk and hurled a grenade at his feet. In “Ambush,” O’Brien imagines telling his nine-year-old daughter, Kathleen, the tale of the guy he murdered. In this second account, O’Brien goes into further detail about the actual killing, including the sound of the grenade and his own emotions, and reveals that he is still processing the event years later.

O’Brien’s last narrative, “The Lives of the Dead,” adds a new twist to O’Brien’s argument that stories have the potential to rescue people. In the Curt Lemon and Kiowa tales, O’Brien describes how his creativity helped him cope with his guilt and bewilderment after the loss of his fourth-grade first love, Linda.

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