illustration of the backside of a soldier in full military gear

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

Start Free Trial

In The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, how does Kiowa feel about Lavender's death?

In The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, Kiowa feels bad about Lavender's death. But when he recounts the events of Lavender's death, Kiowa gives the other soldiers a remarkably detached account of what happened as if he had no personal connection to the deceased. In referring to Lavender's death this way, Kiowa is emotionally separating himself from the chaos and horror of war.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Kiowa is undoubtedly sad at the death of Ted Lavender. But he expresses his emotions differently from that of the rest of the platoon. As well as sighing and shaking his head, he recounts the tale of his friend's demise in a noticeably detached manner, giving an almost scientific description of what happened:

He was dead weight. There was no twitching or flopping. Kiowa, who saw it happen, said it was like watching a rock fall, or a big sandbag or something—just boom, then down—not like the movies where the dead guy rolls around and does fancy spins and goes ass over teakettle—not like that, Kiowa said, the poor bastard just flat-f*** fell. Boom. Down. Nothing else.

Although Kiowa says that Lavender's death wasn't like anything you'd see in the movies, his own description of that death seems remarkably cinematic, none the less. It's almost as if he's relating a particularly exciting scene he's just watched in a movie.

That's not to say there's anything callous or tasteless about Kiowa's description of Lavender's death. There's a reason why he deals with death in this way. Looking at death from a detached cosmic viewpoint is a kind of coping mechanism, a way for Kiowa to handle the daily grind of bloodshed, chaos, and horror which is part and parcel of war.

Kiowa is as active of a participant in this conflict as Lavender and all the other members of his platoon, but by adopting the position of a spectator he is better able to get a perspective on things. Otherwise, if he got too caught up in the war and all its horrors, he might well end up going mad.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, Kiowa is revealed to not feel emotional grief over Ted Lavendar's death. The Vietnam War was particularly brutal and violent with immensely high death tolls. Kiowa's reaction is one of deep consideration of the fragility of life itself and of the undignified death that so instantly claims the life of his friend and fellow soldier. While one may see Kiowa's response as cruel or heartless, his response is a rational numbness and shock in the face of so much constant death. Kiowa wishes he could feel deep grief like his fellow soldiers, and experiences guilt over his lack of emotional response. However, Kiowa finds other meaning in Lavendar's death. He finds an appreciation for his own life and a deeper understanding of the fragility of life and the possibility of death at any moment, especially in war.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After Ted Lavender passes, Kiowa replays the violence in his head over and over again. He is trapped in his friend’s harsh and unceremonious death. Unlike his fellow soldiers Kiowa does not respond with emotional sadness. Rather he is struck by the bluntness of the war and its ability to reduce a human life to an instant. Kiowa replays the literal sound and image of Lavender’s death. He says out loud “boom, down.” Kiowa is stuck in the rawness of his friend's death and is unable to make meaning of it. It strikes him that the death was seemingly without pain and even more so without any protest. Lavender died with a thud and no more. Lavender’s death makes Kiowa thankful for his own life. He reports feeling thankful for all his feelings even if he is in pain and discomfort. He is thankful for his tiredness and soreness. While the rest of his platoon is able to grieve Lavender's passing, Kiowa is left feeling guilty for his inability to feel anything.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Kiowa struggles with the unceremonious nature of Ted Lavender's death. There is no crying out, no preparation, no real aftermath; he describes it again and again, in his mind and in words that he shares with the others: "boom, down." Kiowa likens the fall of Lavender's body to a bag of cement.

Kiowa is a Christian and thinks that only feeling "surprise" is "unchristian." He obviously believes that Lavender's death is significant but can't summon emotions of grief and loss in the way that he thinks Lavender deserves. He marvels at Jimmy Cross's expression of "real heavy-duty hurt." He ruminates in silence after his platoon mates have told him to stop talking about Lavender, feeling little else but relief at being alive and experiencing physical sensations like tiredness, soreness, and hearing the sounds that surround the soldiers' encampment.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the story, Kiowa feels ambivalent about Lavender's death; he feels guilty that he can't seem to muster up any anger or sadness regarding his colleague's death.

The one thing he does feel is relief that he's still alive. This feeling of relief leaves him feeling even more guilty for what he considers his "unchristian" response to Lavender's death. In fact, at the time of Lavender's death, Kiowa admits that he had been surprised that Lavender had died so quickly. To his recollection, Lavender had just dropped dead, without drama and certainly without any indication that he had experienced pain.

Kiowa envies Lieutenant Cross for being able to grieve for Lavender's death. All Kiowa feels is relief that he's still alive. He admits that, rather than feeling sad, he's more aware of the pleasure of living than ever before.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team