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How does Kiowa die?

The platoon sets up camp on the edge of what turns out to be a sewage field. In the pouring rain, the land turns to mud. Mortar rounds hit the platoon during the night, and Kiowa begins to scream. He then sinks into the mud and dies. The reader does not know if Kiowa was killed from wounds from the mortar or if he suffocated in the mud.

What are the things the soldiers carry?

In the first story in the novel, O’Brien writes that the “things they carried were largely determined by necessity” and lists dozens of items, such as matches, dog tags, mosquito repellant, ammunition, medical supplies, and food. Each solider also carried personal mementos, from Kiowa’s “illustrated New Testament” to Dave Jensen’s “three pairs of socks and a can of Dr. Scholl’s foot powder.” O’Brien writes that the soldiers carried immaterial things as well, including a “silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried” and “ghosts” of the men they saw killed.

In the title story of the book, why does Lt. Cross burn Martha’s letters?

For much of the story, Lt. Jimmy Cross wonders if Martha, a girl back home, is in love with him. O’Brien writes that Cross spends much of his time “just pretending” that Martha loves him, thinking about her constantly while on the move with his men across the war zone of Vietnam. After Ted Lavender is killed, Cross feels deeply guilty that he was not able to protect him, and burns Martha’s letters and photo as way of trying to apologize and make things right.

Why aren’t the stories in chronological order?

The narrator of the novel, Tim, tells the stories of the novel to try to understand how the war changed him, and to remember the friends he made (and sometimes lost) there. Thus, he is more interested in the recurring ideas, themes and image of the war than in recreating the factual chronology of the war. The fractured, repetitious and occasionally confusing flow of stories in the novel reflects Tim’s experience in Vietnam, as well as how he thinks about it in the present.

Who is Linda?

Linda is the last major character to be included in the novel, a childhood friend of the narrator, Tim (then called Timmy), who only appears in the last story in the book, “The Lives of the Dead.” Tim says that they were in love when they were kids, and recalls their first date. She died just a few months later, of cancer.

Why didn’t Tim O’Brien try to evade the draft by going to Canada?

Tim O’Brien decides to go to Vietnam because he couldn’t find the resolve not to or, in his own words, because he “was embarrassed not to.” In “On the Rainy River,” O’Brien contemplates running away to Canada after he is drafted. But while sitting in Elroy Berdahl’s boat close to the Canadian shore, O’Brien envisions all the people in his life and what they will think of him if he dodges the draft. He admits, “I did not want people to think badly of me.” O’Brien later says about his decision, “I survived, but it’s not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war.”

Who is Kathleen?

Kathleen is the young daughter of the main character, Tim O’Brien. The author Tim O’Brien does not have a daughter, though he does have two sons. Kathleen is like a stand-in for the reader, someone O’Brien is trying to share his story with. And as someone who has no experience with Vietnam, like many of O’Brien’s readers, Kathleen asks questions the reader may be wondering about, such as whether O’Brien killed anyone in Vietnam and what the whole war was about. She also serves as a commentator on O’Brien’s storytelling and his ruminating on his experiences in Vietnam.

How do the soldiers cope with death during wartime?

O’Brien says that to cope with death, some soldiers “carried themselves with a sort of wistful resignation, others with pride or stiff soldierly discipline or good humor or macho zeal.” The soldiers also responded in ways that could seem insensitive but that helped them manage the harsh reality of killing during wartime. They told stories, made jokes, and used slang to describe death with words like “greased,” “offed,” “lit up,” and “zapped while zipping.” They also treated corpses like they were not people—kicking them or cutting off thumbs. All of the stories featured in The Things They Carried are O’Brien’s way of coping with his experience during wartime.

How does Curt Lemon die?

Curt Lemon dies by accidentally stepping on a grenade. Lemon and Rat Kiley “were playing catch with smoke grenades” in the shade during a break their platoon took from being on the move. O’Brien observes that “when [Lemon] died it was almost beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into the tree full of moss and vines and white blossoms.” For O’Brien, this impression illustrates that “[i]n any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen.” Lemon’s death also highlights the juxtaposition between the innocent fun of boys and the deadly seriousness of war.

What happens to Mary Anne Bell?

After Mary Anne Bell’s boyfriend, Mark Fossie, flies her to Vietnam, she transforms from a sweet, innocent 17-year-old into a type of Green Beret. In Vietnam, Mary Anne finds the war mysterious and intriguing. She wants to learn about how to live like a soldier and how to use weapons, and falls in with the Green Berets and goes out on patrol with them. As Rat Kiley describes it, Vietnam has “the effect of a powerful drug” on Mary Anne. In the end, she goes missing, becoming part of the land.

What does Norman Bowker need after he returns home?

After Norman Bowker returns home, he needs to find a way to talk about his war experiences and his guilt about the way Kiowa died, but he can’t. In the chapter “Speaking of Courage,” Bowker drives around and around the lake of his hometown, feeling the distance his war experiences have put between himself and those who haven’t served. Bowker never adjusts to life after the war and ends up committing suicide as a result. His story illustrates the way war changes people and the difficulty that soldiers can have readjusting to civilian life.

What point does O’Brien make about stories and truth?

O’Brien believes that “story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” He says this in the chapter “Good Form,” in which he admits that most of The Things They Carried, which reads like nonfiction, is invented, and yet still communicates the subjective truth of the war. O’Brien uses fiction to demonstrate the unreal nature of war and the fact that during the Vietnam War “[c]ertain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons . . . [t]he very facts were shrouded in uncertainty.”

Why does O’Brien become angry at Bobby Jorgenson and eventually want to get revenge on him?

O’Brien was angry at Bobby Jorgenson, the new medic who replaced Rat Kiley, for being too scared to get to O’Brien promptly after O’Brien was shot in the bottom. As a result of the delay, O’Brien almost died of shock. Jorgenson also didn’t do an effective job of treating O’Brien’s wound, so it developed partial gangrene. O’Brien carries a grudge about this and decides to get revenge on Jorgenson by scaring him while he’s in his tent. He “wanted to hurt Bobby Jorgenson the way he’d hurt [him].”

Where does O’Brien take his daughter, Kathleen, in Vietnam?

Aside from taking Kathleen to tourist spots in Hanoi and Saigon, O’Brien takes her to Quang Ngai, where he had served as a soldier. He thought about showing her the village of My Khe, where he felt responsible for the death of the young, slim Vietnamese man, but he takes her to the field where Kiowa died instead. O’Brien recalls: “This little field, I thought, had swallowed so much. My best friend. My pride. My belief in myself as a man of some small dignity and courage.”

What happens to Rat Kiley?

The medic Rat Kiley has a mental breakdown. At first he becomes silent and then begins to talk nonstop about the bugs in Vietnam being out to get him while digging at his own skin. Having seen too much war and too many wounded bodies, he also can’t stop imagining how living people would look if they were dead. He finally arranges for his own exit from the war zone by deliberately shooting himself in the foot. He is then medevaced out to Japan.