Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews March 7, 2024
February 29, 2024
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
O’Brien says that mourning Curt Lemon was difficult for him because he didn’t know him well, but in order to avoid getting sentimental, he tells a brief Curt Lemon story. In February, the men are at work in an area of operations along the South China Sea. One day, an Army dentist is flown in to check the men’s teeth. As the platoon sits, waiting to be checked one by one, Curt Lemon begins to tense up. Finally, he admits that in high school he had some bad experiences with dentists. He says that no one messes with his teeth, and that when he’s called, he’ll refuse to go in. However, a few moments later, when the dentist calls him, Lemon rises and goes into the tent. He faints before the dentist can even lay a finger on him.
Later that night he creeps back to the dental tent and insists that he has a killer toothache. Though the dentist can’t find any problem, Lemon demands his tooth be pulled. Finally, the dentist, shrugging, gives him a shot and yanks the perfectly good tooth out, to Lemon’s delight.
Curt Lemon’s character offers an unusual take on the idea of bravado within war. He has an obvious need to demonstrate his capacity to endure suffering and to act bravely in the face of adversity. He, like several of the men, has a clear notion of what bravery is, garnered from popular culture. He experiences discomfort for the sake of pride and for the assurance that he has acted like a man. In the morning, when he reveals that the dentist has pulled his tooth, he is proud, having defeated his prior nervous reaction—fainting—with an obvious display of manliness. But the threat that Lemon faces is not a real one; nothing is wrong with his teeth. The challenge that he confronts with bravado is entirely psychological. As a result, this episode demonstrates the absurdity of conventional bravado.
Read more about fear of shame as motivation.
Before his death, Curt Lemon is the work’s most comic character. Despite his seemingly ridiculous actions, we can identify with Lemon’s need to prove himself for the sake of proving himself. He is a young, frightened man whose notions of pain are, at this point, reserved to the dentist’s chair. The irony of the story is that shortly after he gets up the courage to have a tooth pulled in order to reassure himself of his bravery, he is killed while playing catch with a grenade. His death is ridiculous and points out the uselessness of bravery. The irony of Lemon’s character is that Lemon so abjectly fears something as generally harmless as a dentist’s visit and doesn’t give a second thought to the potential harm of playing with a grenade.
Read more about Curt Lemon.
The truth O’Brien attempts to illustrate in “The Dentist” is that physical suffering is sometimes easier to bear than mental anguish. For the soldiers in Vietnam, the unknown was often their greatest enemy. Lemon wants to get his pain out of the way—in part to save face in front of his fellow soldiers for fainting and in part to get used to the feeling of suffering. By actually experiencing and becoming familiar with pain, he eases his mind of the anxiety of not knowing what such pain might feel like. O’Brien portrays such seemingly small triumphs as necessary victories amid the chaos and senselessness of war.
Read more about the Vietnam war as an antagonist.
Take the "The Dentist" Quick Quiz
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Things They Carried!