What are 5 physical, symbolic, or emotional things Mary Anne Bell carried in the novel 'The Things They Carried'?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hello! You asked what five things Mary Ann Bell carried with her in the novel 'The Things They Carried.'

1) She carries the normalcy and familiarity of home to the soldiers.

Although Rat Kiley is an unreliable narrator and 'had a reputation of exaggeration and overstatement,' we are nevertheless fascinated when he tells the soldiers in his unit the story of Mary Ann Bell. For all of them, she embodies all the familiar comforts and memories of home. She even arrives in 'white culottes and this sexy, pink sweater.'

2) She carries sweetness and innocence with her wherever she goes.

When she first arrives in Song Tra Bong, Mary Ann Bell is the all American girl, with 'long white legs and blue eyes and a complexion like strawberry ice-cream.' She has a 'bubbly personality,' a 'happy smile' and she just exudes a sexy 'come-get-me energy, coy and flirtatious.' All the soldiers fall a little in love with her.

3) Eventually, she wears the necklace of tongues around her neck, symbolizing her descent into animalistic degradation.

Initially, Mary Ann Bell's curiosity amuses the soldiers. It is a mystery to them. She learns some Vietnamese phrases and learns how to eat with her hands. Eventually, she joins the Green Berets and involves herself in their missions. Her feminine naivety soon gives way to masculine efficiency.

Her body seemed foreign somehow—too stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be. The bubbliness was gone. The nervous giggling, too. When she laughed now, which was rare, it was only when something struck her as truly funny. Her voice seemed to reorganize itself at a lower pitch.

4) She carries the wounds of war in her, evident in her loss of innocence and transformation into a fierce warrior.

When Mark Fossie enters the Green Beret station, he is met with the ferocious spectacle of blood, gore and horror:

Thick and numbing, like an animal's den, a mix of blood and scorched hair and excrement and the sweet-sour odor of moldering flesh —the stink of the kill. But that wasn't all. On a post at the rear of the hootch was the decayed head of a large black leopard; strips of yellow-brown skin dangled from the overhead rafters. And bones. Stacks of bones—all kinds.

Rat Kiley tells us that Mary Ann Bell has turned into just another animal, like the rest of them. It is the price of war, whether it is defensive or offensive warfare.

"I didn't know it was all that complicated. The girl joined the zoo. One more animal—end of story."

5) She carries the author's voice with her; as the sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, she is the vehicle for the author's moral ambivalence towards the Vietnam War.

Mary Ann Bell's femininity and humanity are casualties of war. Through Mary Ann Bell, the author shows us how war affects us to our very depths.

Hope this helps. Thanks for the question!

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Very welcome!

queenchelsea1 | Student

Thank you so much for your help. I needed this as a guide for an English that I have due on Monday for a major grade. :)

Read the study guide:
The Things They Carried

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