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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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What do the things that Henry Dobbins carries show about him?

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Henry Dobbins in The Things They Carried is described as the gentle giant of the company.  He also carries the machine gun, the heaviest load one can carry in the war.  He also carries canned peaches.  The most important object that he carries is his girlfriend’s panty hose.  He wraps the panty hose around his neck, and at night pulls them over his face so he can smell her scent.  They are like a security blanket to him and represent a good luck charm to Dobbins.  He feels they protect him in battle.  Even after his girlfriend breaks up with him, he continues to wear them to keep him safe.  Many of the soldiers carry good luck charms; for example, Jimmy Cross carries a smooth pebble in his mouth given to him by Martha, a girl back home.

Henry Dobbins is mentioned in several other vignettes in the novel.  In “Style,” he gets mad at Azar for laughing at a young girl dancing around her destroyed village.  In “Church,” the monks call him “Soldier Jesus” because of his kindness to them.  Dobbins seems to be a symbol of charity, gentleness, and peacefulness in the story, and that may be why he carries the heaviest load.  It is difficult to maintain these characteristics in a brutal war. 

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