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Jimmy Cross’s character represents the profound effects
responsibility has on those who are too immature to handle it. As
a sophomore in college, he signs up for the Reserve Officers Training
Corps because it is worth a few credits and because his friends
are doing it. But he doesn’t care about the war and has no desire
to be a team leader. As a result, when he is led into battle with
several men in his charge, he is unsure in everything he does.
Cross’s guilt is palpable every time one of his men dies,
but it is most acute in the case of Ted Lavender. Right before Lavender
is killed, Cross allows himself to be distracted and deluded by
the thoughts of his coveted classmate, Martha, who sends him photographs
and writes flowery letters that never mention the war. His innocent
reverie is interrupted by Lavender’s death, and Cross’s only conclusion
is that he loves this faraway girl more than he loves his men. Cross’s
confession to O’Brien, years later, that he has never forgiven himself
for Lavender’s death testifies to his intense feelings of guilt
about the incident.
Jimmy Cross can be viewed as a Christ figure. In times
of inexplicable atrocity, certain individuals assume the position
of a group’s or their own savior. Such men suffer so that others
don’t have to bear the brunt of the guilt and confusion. Cross is
linked to Christ not only on a superficial level—they share initials
and are both connected to the idea of the cross—but also in the
nature of his role. Like Christ, who suffers for his fellow men,
Cross suffers for the sake of the entire platoon. In “The Things
They Carried,” Cross bears the grief of Lavender’s death for the
members of his troop, such as Kiowa, who are too dumbfounded to
mourn. In the same story, he makes a personal sacrifice, burning
the letters from Martha so that her presence will no longer distract
him. In each case, Cross makes a Christ-like sacrifice so that his
fellow men—Norman Bowker and Kiowa, in this case—can carry on without
being crippled by grief and guilt.
Take the Analysis of Major Characters Quick Quiz