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The Things They Carried

Quotes

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 2

He 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 hole.

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 mind.