Why does O'Brien end The Things They Carried with a story about his childhood?
Although the work is supposedly about the Vietnam war, the final story focuses on O'Brien's childhood. What is his purpose for ending it this way?
Discuss how this story relates to the stories of war.
In The Things They Carried, O'Brien uses the venue of the Vietnam War to stage his stories, but he also uses the soldiers' hometowns in the U.S. before, during, and after the war as juxtaposition. More than a book about war, The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories about the nature of storytelling. Within these stories, O'Brien plays around with memory, truth, point-of-view, and the impact that death has on our lives. The novel begins with the latest death (Lavender's), and it ends with the first significant death from O'Brien's childhood (Linda).
The point of ending the stories with a focus on Linda is to bring the concepts of storytelling, memory, and death full circle. Her death is the first in his memory, and each death thereafter triggers it. O'Brien has written these stories 20 - 30 years after they've happened, after many of the characters have died (Lavender, Lemon, Kiowa, Bowker, Linda). Each story is a way to bring each of these characters back to life (hence one of the ending chapter titles "The Lives of the Dead"). Remember, all the men in Alpha Company look to O'Brien as the resident storyteller: they tell him he has a long memory, and they request that he writes about them (Cross and Bowker). On some level, they want to be immortalized. As such, O'Brien takes his duty very seriously; he wants to honor their memories by creating art from their lives and deaths, something he can share for the next generation (his daughter Kathleeen).
Linda, in particular, is O'Brien's ideal audience. She is the very antithesis of the Vietnam soldier: she is an innocent female; they are males corrupted by war. She is a symbol of innocence, and a reminder that death is absurd (it strikes indiscriminately). So, just as O'Brien takes his daughter on the trip back to Vietnam to bury Kiowa's moccasins, so too is "carrying" Linda with him in memory and spirit. These stories honor Linda, his muse and spirit guide.