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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien
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In Tim O'Brien's work The Things They Carried, what are the themes, the tones, and the narrative styles of the chapter titled "In the Field"?

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In Tim O’Brien’s work titled The Things They Carried, the chapter titled “In the Field” can be analyzed in terms of its themes, its tones, and its narrative styles. Such analysis might be outlined as follows:


  • One theme of the chapter involves the sheer physical unpleasantness of war.
  • Comradeship in wartime is another theme, as is suggested by the focus, in the first paragraph, on finding Kiowa’s body.
  • Another theme is the harshness of nature; the presentation of nature here can hardly be called naïve or Romantic.
  • Another theme involves the tendency of soldiers – especially those in responsibility – to ponder and agonize over the decisions they have made, especially if those decisions have resulted in a loss of a comrade’s life.
  • Another theme involves the tensions that often arise among comrades during a time of war.
  • Another theme involves the ability of the human mind to be in two places at once – one place where it “really” is, another place that preoccupies its thoughts and memories, as in Lieutenant Cross’s various thoughts and recollections about the United States.


  • One tone of the chapter is grimly realistic – a tone implied in the chapter’s very first sentence.
  • Another tone is moralistic, as when Lieutenant Cross continually reflects on the goodness and decency of his lost comrade.
  • Irony is another tone of this chapter, as is made clear from Azar’s comments.


  • One style featured is this chapter is a style that might be called vulgar or obscene by some but that O’Brien would probably call honest, as in the repeated use of the term “shit field.”
  • One stylistic method featured in this chapter might be termed “stream of consciousness,” as when impressions seem to overwhelm normal grammar and syntax, as in the flow of fragments in the following passage:

And Kiowa had been a splendid human being, the very best, intelligent and gentle and quiet-spoken. Very brave, too. And decent.

  • Another stylistic method used in this chapter involves emphatically brief paragraphs.  Thus as one point an extremely long and detailed paragraph concerning Kiowa’s death is followed immediately by the following extremely brief paragraph: “A crime, Jimmy Cross thought.” This sentence --  a fragment, really, rather than a sentence – receives all the more stress because it is so brief and abrupt.
  • Another aspect of the style of this chapter involves the chapter’s emphasis on vivid sense impressions, including those of touch, sight, hearing, and smell, as in the following sentence:

The rain made quick dents in the water, like tiny mouths, and the stink was everywhere.


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