Please explain the role Kiowa played amoung the soldiers in the platoon in "The Things They Carried?"  

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kiowa is a Native American and a devout Baptist who always carries the New Testament and his grandfather's hatchet while on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam.  He is an eminently decent soldier, more culturally attuned to his surroundings than his comrades, and more plain spoken, although certainly not simplistic.  Kiowa was the one who would sum up a situation in few words.  The death of Ted Lavender is one of the book's enduring themes, and testaments by members of the platoon of how Lavender died defied colorful descriptions.  Here's how the book's author and protagonist, Tim O'Brien, described it:

"He [Lavender] 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..."

Similarly, the effect of Lavender's death on Lieutenant Cross was to deal once and for all with his obsession over Martha -- an obsession that diverted his mind from his responsibilities as platoon commander and resulted in that death.  The world had to be simplified if he and his men were to survive:

"This was not Mount Sebastian, it was another world, where there were no pretty poems or midterm exams, a place where men died because of carelessness and gross stupidity.  Kiowa was right.  Boom-down, and you were dead."

Kiowa represents competency, stability, reliability, and he represents honor.  His relationship to O'Brien is close, but unspoken, as these things tend to be in an all-male environment in which each man relies on the other for his survival.  His death by drowning in raw sewage has to mean something, given the traits Kiowa brought to the platoon.  It could be suggested that the drowning of an eminently decent man -- an eminently decent devout Baptist American man -- in raw sewage was meant to be a commentary on the effects of the War in Vietnam on America's collective psyche.  That might be reading too much into it.  Certainly, O'Brien's feelings of guilt for precipitating the event that lead to Kiowa's death could lead one to conclude that Kiowa was more than just a friend and a soldier you could rely on: he just might have been a metaphor for the American experience in Vietnam.

Read the study guide:
The Things They Carried

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