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

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Lt. Jimmy Cross's last name (Cross) and his initials (J.C.) have led some readers to associate him with Jesus Christ. This association is appropriate in some ways and ironic in others, as I'll explain.

Jimmy Cross could be seen as a Christ figure because he serves in a leadership role...

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Lt. Jimmy Cross's last name (Cross) and his initials (J.C.) have led some readers to associate him with Jesus Christ. This association is appropriate in some ways and ironic in others, as I'll explain.

Jimmy Cross could be seen as a Christ figure because he serves in a leadership role and takes on the responsibility of his men's lives, as Christ took on the burden of the cross (his sacrifice representing the eternal lives of all believers). When Ted Lavender is killed by a sniper, Jimmy blames himself, seeing his obsession with Martha, a girl back home, as a distraction that diverted his attention from his men. After Ted's death, Jimmy decides he must take even more responsibility for his men's lives onto his own shoulders. He burns the remnants of his relationship with Martha, which could be seen as a sacrifice. Jimmy is "determined to perform his duties firmly and without negligence . . . He would dispose of his good-luck pebble . . . He would be careful . . . He would accept the blame" (24). All of these resolutions indicate that Jimmy will take his role as a leader more seriously and will view himself as responsible for the lives of all of the men in his regiment.

On the other hand, looking at Jimmy as representing Jesus Christ could be taken as ironic. For one, the United States's involvement in the Vietnam War was questionable, and the purpose these soldiers serve there is in doubt. So, whatever Cross is fighting and sacrificing for, it's not what Jesus himself died for. Also, in making himself a steadier leader, Jimmy Cross decides to "dispense with love," which would not be in keeping with Jesus's philosophy or his sacrifice. In re-dedicating himself to leadership, Jimmy will also no longer have any escape from war (since he blames Martha/his obsession with her for his distraction, and in doing so, he is eliminating his one release valve). It could be argued that his sacrifice is actually misguided.

In paralleling Jimmy Cross's name to Jesus Christ, Tim O'Brien seems to highlight Jimmy's sacrifices but also the futility of his action.

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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.

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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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