How do Lieutenant Cross's fantasies about Martha change throughout Tim O'Brien's story, "The Things They Carried"?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even though he knows that Martha doesn't love him, his fantasies about her at first are full of hope and optimism - "romantic camping trips into the White Mountains...tast(ing) the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there".  He wonders if she is a virgin, and is "almost sure" she is.  After awhile, Cross begins to have doubts about Martha, his fantasies tinged by "phantom jealousies".  Although he still daydreams, just pretending, about "walking barefoot along the Jersey shore with Martha", he wonders what her true feelings are, and admits that she is probably not a virgin. 

Just before Ted Lavender is shot, Cross's fantasies bout Martha become crushing.  He wants to know her, body and soul, and he is smothered by the knowledge of the discrepancy between his desires and hers, and also, by his reality and hers.  Finally, after Lavender's death, Cross admits to himself that his dreams of Martha are only make-believe.  When he visualizes her now she is cold and detached, unreachable.  She is not a part of the reality that he now lives in, which is the war.

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The Things They Carried

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