What is symbolic about the name Jim Cross in The Things They Carried?

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lt. Jimmy Cross serves as a representation of the Vietnam War itself: lacking in structure or purpose, Cross struggles to fulfill his designated role as a strong leader of men. This is, as his name suggests, his cross to bear.

Cross is a complex figure. He fervently wants to be a strong and competent leader of Alpha Company, given that the lives of his men are in his hands. However, he has not been sufficiently equipped with the knowledge and training to do his job in this war unlike any that preceded it. The lieutenant and the war, then, are at odds with each other: he is attempting to apply his training to a situation where it does not, and cannot, fit.

As a previous educator has noted, his initials are also a deliberate evocation of Christ's. Unlike Christ, however, he is a leader of men only because he has been put in that position by military authorities. The allusion to Jesus Christ invites the reader to note how poorly Cross fares by comparison. While Christ sacrificed himself for all mankind, Cross, in stark contrast, attempts to distance himself from responsibility for his men. This can be seen when he falls back upon standard procedures after Lavender's death as a way to deny responsibility.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lt. Jimmy Cross's name symbolizes the burden that he has to carry as the reluctant leader of men during wartime.  First, his initials are intentionally J.C. (Jesus Christ).  While Cross is hardly a Messianic figure for his men, he feels the weight of trying to keep them safe just as Jesus Christ came to "save" mankind.

Similarly, Lt. Cross has his own "cross" to bear.  When O'Brien lists the tangible elements that the soldiers carry in the title story, he also notes Jimmy Cross's carrying the responsibility of his men's lives.  This creates a comparison between Jesus of Nazareth's carrying the crossbeam to his execution site and Jimmy Cross struggling under his weighty responsibility--each man struggles for others' sake.

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The Things They Carried

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