The Things They Carried begins with death (Lavender's), and the theme hangs over the book like Hamlet's father's Ghost. Indeed, O'Brien keeps revisiting Lavender's death, so much so that the reader understands he is still haunted by it. Cross and Tim are the most affected by the deaths that occur, especially Lavender and Kiowa's respectively.
"The Lives of the Dead" is O'Brien's first encounter with death. As such, Linda becomes a Lavender-like symbol, a ghost who haunts the narrator. He feels guilty in the way he treated her, and his guilt reawakens during war.
Some critics even believe Linda is O'Brien's ideal audience:
O'Brien's character appropriates the feminine, becoming an androgynous fusion of pre-adolescent Timmy and Linda.
The Things They Carried is an exercise in memory and storytelling, in bringing haunting memories and ghosts back to life. Remember, story-truth is truer than happening-truth, so the truths in this story are more agonizingly wrought than a bearing out of facts. Believe it: Linda is real, and her death has real impact. O'Brien believes in the paradoxical title of this chapter: the dead live on in his fiction. And Linda is O'Brien's first muse.