illustration of the backside of a soldier in full military gear

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

Start Free Trial

Who were the 'greenies' in The Things They Carried and what were they like?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Greenies are an elite force of Army soldiers known as the Green Berets.  They are a special forces group of men known for their abilities to engage the enemy in guerrilla warfare and to search out and destroy the enemy in ambushes.  In The Things They Carried, we see a group of Green Berets in the story, “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.”  Their “hootch” or hut is separate from the other soldiers in this story, and they are known for going out alone on patrols.  Tim O’Brien also mentions that they are someone you don’t want to mess with. 

In the story, a medic by the name of Mark Fossie is able to fly his girlfriend, Mary Ann, to Vietnam for a visit.  She is immediately enthralled with the war and countryside of Vietnam.  Mary Ann eventually goes on a patrol with the Greenies that changes her life forever.  In the story, the Greenies collect body parts of their kills.  Their hootch is full of animal parts, skulls, and human bones.  Their hootch reeks like an animal’s den, and they play strange music that sounds like animals screaming and howling.  These men have gone insane fighting in this war. 

When Fossie confronts Mary Ann about her behavior, he finds her in the Greenie’s hootch wearing a necklace of human tongues made up from her kills.  During the telling of this story, Rat Kiley says, “She wanted more, she wanted to penetrate deeper into the mystery of herself, and after a time, the wanting became needing, which turned to craving.”

This is a very interesting chapter because of the animalistic characteristics O’Brien uses to describe the men and their hootch.  He symbolic suggests that the actions of Mary Ann and the men are cannibalistic to show just how deeply anyone can be driven insane by war.  Mary Ann falls in love with the war and the thrill of the ambush, and at the end of the story, she disappears into the jungles never to be seen again.  Mary Ann loses her innocence in Vietnam and is symbolic of how all people will be changed by war. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial