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was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay
with one leg bent beneath him, his jaw in his throat, his face neither
expressive nor inexpressive. One eye was shut. The other was a star-shaped
This quotation, from “The Man I Killed,”
describes the corpse of a young Vietnamese soldier whom O’Brien
killed with a grenade. In this story, the narration is from a third-person
perspective, and is largely a series of unconnected observations
and fantasies about the young, dead soldier. This particular passage
is an example of the concrete description O’Brien uses to come to
terms with his killing of the boy. He is blunt in these moments,
perhaps because he thinks matter-of-factness is the only way to
negotiate committing the unthinkable. But the observation that the
man is dainty and the idea that his face might hold an expression
speak to the humanity of both the dead young man and that of his
killer-turned-observer. O’Brien’s description of the star-shaped
hole in the boy’s eye is both a means of detaching himself and an
idea that in death a body becomes mystical and beautiful. These
particular words become a refrain for O’Brien—they are repeated
several times in reference to this killing, to reinforce the notion
that the memory of the young man’s body is one still fresh in O’Brien’s
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Things They Carried!