Study Guide

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried Characters

Characters

The characters in "The Things They Carried" are notable because they do not change throughout the course of the story. The meaninglessness of the war, the lack of moral lesson, the sheer monotony of the "hump" through Vietnam offers no impetus to change or grow. The characters themselves are not so much marked by who they are as by the objects they carry, both physically and emotionally. Thus Henry Dobbins is the machine gunman who also carries his girlfriend's pantyhose wrapped around his neck as a comforter. Rat Kiley is the medic who also carries brandy and M&Ms, and Kiowa is an American Indian who carries both his Bible and his grandfather's hunting hatchet. They carry these things to try to ward off the void of reality that is their lives. They carry these things to try to find meaning in what they do, yet they can find none.

Even in the death of one of their own, the American soldiers can find no morality, no meaning to foster any change. Thus, Ted Lavender's death becomes a mockery and further fuels a sense of despair. It is Ted Lavender, the one who fears death most of all, who ultimately ends up dying in a fashion that lacks dignity and meaning. While the other soldiers are awaiting Lee Strunk's return from an underground tunnel, while they fear for his death in the middle of performing his duties, it is Ted Lavender who is killed while urinating, "zapped while zipping", shot down during the performance of a mundane function. Once again, there is no...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

The Things They Carried Characters

Norman Bowker
The member of the platoon who is described as "gentle," Bowker carries a diary with him. The other unusual thing that he carries is a thumb from the body of a dead Viet Cong boy.

Ted Lavender
Because he is scared Lavender always carries tranquilizers and ‘‘six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity.’’ He is shot and killed while the platoon waits for Lee Strunk to emerge from the tunnels.

Jimmy Cross
Lieutenant Cross is the main character of the story and the one whose inner thoughts the narrator most often presents to the reader. He is more educated than the rest of his men but seems reluctant to assume the burdens of leadership. He carries photographs, letters, and a pebble given to him by Martha, a college girl he knows back in New Jersey and with whom he believes himself to be in love.

Martha
Martha is a junior at St. Sebastian's College in New Jersey. Before Lieutenant Cross was shipped to Vietnam she formed at least a superficial relationship with him, but her letters are more friendly than romantic.

Henry Dobbins
The biggest man in the platoon, Dobbins carries the heaviest physical load, the M-60 machine gun.

Mitchell Sanders
The radio operator for the platoon, Sanders has the responsibility of calling for the chopper to pick up Lavender's body. He gave Bowker the amputated thumb...

(The entire section is 281 words.)