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The Things They Carried: Character Analysis

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 American author Tim O’Brien drew on his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War to write his novel The Things They Carried (1990). He uses imagery, or artful descriptions, to help readers imagine these experiences and appreciate the reality of combat far from home. He writes, ”A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe”. In The Things They Carried, author, Tim O’Brien uses color imagery by letting readers know sunlight (or sunset) is often used to depict scenes that are beautiful despite the ugliness of a war-torn context. Lemon, whose name evokes the color yellow, dies on a bright day under a majestic tree, and O’Brien’s memory of his death is characterized by radiant sunshine and white flowers. The attractive Mary Anne has blond hair, and her fashionable culottes are white. For O’Brien, she initially represents American women back home: ”Just a child, blond and innocent, but then weren’t they all?”.

In The Things They Carried, there are different characters including the author, O’Brien, himself. There is Tim, who is both the narrator and the protagonist. He is a pacifist who repeatedly attempts to rationalize his participation in the war by concluding his obligation to his family and commitment to his country were far greater influences than his own political beliefs.

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Jimmy Cross: Jimmy is the lieutenant of the Alpha Company. He has good intentions and is quite capable of leading the men, however, he lacks confidence in his abilities. He is consumed by guilt because he believes that his fantasies about his lost love, Martha, and his deep-rooted tendency to follow orders led to the death of Ted Lavender and Kiowa.

Mitchell Sanders: Mitchell is one of the most well-liked soldiers in the Company, and was a strong influencer for O’Brien. He is described as being kind and devoted. He has a keen belief in injustice. Given these qualities, it was only natural for him to assume the role of a father figure.

Kiowa: Kiowa was O’Brien’s closest friend and served as an example of rationality and morality against the backdrop of the horrors of war. Kiowa’s death, when the men mistakenly camp out in a sewage field, is the central point of three stories.

Norman Bowker: Norman is a man who embodies the very damage that war can do to a man years after the war has ended. During the war, Bowker is depicted as being quiet and unassuming, however, the death of Kiowa has a profound effect on him. The note that he writes to O’Brien in “Notes” depicts the value of sharing stories to heal.

Henry Dobbins: Henry is the machine gunner of the platoon, and also the nicest guy in the bunch. His tremendous decency, and profound simplicity, contrast with this ‘gentle giant’ stature.

Curt Lemon: Curt is regarded as being childish and careless. He is killed after having stepped on a rigged mortar round. Even though O’Brien does not particularly care for Lemon, Lemon’s death is something that he continually thinks about with extreme sadness and regret.

Ted Lavender: Ted was the first soldier to die, he was young and terrified. He had no place in the war. Ted frequently battled his anxiety with sedatives and drugs. His death, similar to Lemon’s, was preventable. It demonstrates how expendable life is in war.

Dave Jensen: Dave is so consumed by the guilt over injuring his friend that he breaks his own nose. Jensen is relieved to hear that his friend had passed away – not because his friend had died, but rather because he had broken a pact they had made and now the pact is obsolete. 

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