Read "Dentist," "Stockings," and "Church" in The Things They Carried and think about how the author is using the characterization of these specific characters in these three short stories. How is the way each of these three men are characterized bringing across the overall message that O'Brien is trying to emphasize to the reader? Incorporate quotes from the chapters.

In "Dentist," "Stockings," and "Church" from The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien uses the small personal possessions of the soldiers to show their individuality. In these three stories, Curt Lemon, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa are characterized in greater depth as diverse personalities who happen to have been transported to Vietnam to fight but whose hearts and minds are far from the war.

Expert Answers

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

"The Dentist" is about Curt Lemon, one of the least attractive characters in the book. The author describes him as a braggart, remarking that

He kept replaying his own exploits, tacking on little flourishes that never happened.

This story is of a kind that Lemon would not tell about himself, since it concerns his fear and makes him look both cowardly and foolish. Strangely, it also presents a more sympathetic picture than Rat Kiley's hero worship of Lemon, since it also presents him as human and vulnerable.

"Stockings" and "Church" both concern Henry Dobbins, and the latter story also includes Kiowa. Both characters are sympathetically portrayed. Henry Dobbins is described as a personification of America:

In many ways he was like America itself, big and strong, full of good intentions, a roll of fat jiggling at his belly, slow of foot but always plodding along, always there when you needed him, a believer in the virtues of simplicity and directness and hard labor.

The Buddhist monks in Vietnam particularly like Dobbins, calling him "soldier Jesus." Talking to Kiowa, he reveals that he once had an ambition to be a minister, though his religious beliefs, unlike Kiowa's, are not strong. These vignettes present Dobbins as a good, kindly, simple-minded man, while Kiowa is a more complex character who nonetheless, like the monks, sees and appreciates Dobbins's goodness.

Through these character sketches, O'Brien depicts an army of diverse individuals whose minds are not on their jobs most of the time. None of them are professional soldiers, and they do not hate the enemy. Indeed, they do not think about the Vietnamese most of the time. Whether they would be drinking and bragging about girls or quietly reading the Bible if they had stayed at home, these are the things they continue to do in Vietnam. The things they carry represent a sliver of individuality that show who they really are beneath the uniform, and the characterization in these stories adds substance to their differences.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial