The Things They Carried


“The Lives of the Dead”

Summary “The Lives of the Dead”

Linda’s death is more profound than the tragedy of the deaths of Ted Lavender, Curt Lemon, and Kiowa. Unlike the soldiers, Linda, innocent, did nothing to provoke the dangers she faced. But once death’s omnipresence and inevitability became clear, first to Linda, and later, when it was too late, to O’Brien, her death became an inevitability and sadness a negotiable feeling for him.

The way O’Brien looks at Linda’s body in the funeral home and then thinks with detachment that it looks different than he thought it would becomes O’Brien’s method for dealing with death for the rest of his life. Though he is so struck, he doesn’t want to talk about it to his father, who, like his future comrades, tries to distract O’Brien rather than address his son’s thoughts about death. O’Brien’s subconscious then takes charge of helping O’Brien cope with his loss, as Linda begins to visit his dreams and teaches him to address the difficult and unknown through his imagination. Instead of frightening him, her specter brings comfort. The young O’Brien came to enjoy having the ability to talk to Linda so much that he looked forward to going to sleep, finding a comfort in the unreal that the real could no longer offer.

The end of The Things They Carried shows how the illusion of life that O’Brien uses to sustain him through Linda’s death helps him in Vietnam and especially afterward. He compares his own coping strategy of storytelling to the crass coping strategies of the other men, who shake hands with corpses and joke about cleaning up the remains of their friends. Nevertheless, he realizes that these actions do help others deal with death, so he does not condemn his fellow soldiers. While the other soldiers joke or keep silent in regard to Ted Lavender and Curt Lemon, for example, O’Brien remembers their qualities and keeps them alive through the stories of the way they were when they were alive. O’Brien’s confession that even though he is forty-three years old he is still making up stories that keep Linda alive reveals that these stories help keep him alive as well. O’Brien’s worldview is one of acceptance and peace in the face of death, of celebrating the dead by remembering them living. The effect of O’Brien’s seemingly arbitrary step into his distant past makes his war stories not only love stories, but life stories as well.