How to Tell a True War Story Characters
by Tim O’Brien

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How to Tell a True War Story Characters

(Short Stories for Students)

Stink Harris
Stink Harris has a very small role in this story, although he figures in other stories in The Things They Carried.

Dave Jensen
Dave Jensen is a minor character in this story, a fellow member of Tim’s platoon.

Rat Kiley
Rat Kiley is another member of Tim’s platoon. The story opens with Tim telling the story of how Rat wrote a letter to the sister of Curt Lemon, one of Rat’s buddies who was killed. The sister never writes back and Rat calls her a ‘‘dumb cooze.’’ A second story involving Rat concerns a ‘‘baby VC water buffalo.’’ The event occurs soon after Curt’s death. The platoon captures the buffalo and takes it with them. However, when it refuses to eat the food Rat offers it, Rat begins shooting the buffalo. The narrator attributes this action to Rat’s grief and anger over the death of his friend.

Kiowa is a Native American member of Tim’s platoon. His role in this story is limited to helping Dave Jensen throw what is left of the baby water buffalo in the village well. However, in other stories in The Things They Carried, Kiowa is a central figure.

Curt Lemon
Curt Lemon is a member of Tim’s platoon who dies. The story of his death is woven through this story and throughout the entire collection of stories that make up The Things They Carried. Curt and his friend Rat Kiley were playing with smoke grenades when Curt stepped on a rigged 105 mm. artillery round. Tim tells the story over and over, trying to describe Curt’s ascent into the trees. Curt’s role in the story is as ‘‘the dead guy.’’ His death offers an illustration of the difference between happeningtruth and seeming-truth. The happening-truth is, of course, that he is killed in an explosion. The seeming- truth, however, is that somehow the sunlight lifts him up into the trees.

Tim O’Brien
Although the first person narrator of the story has the same name as the author (the narrator is not named in this story; readers learn this information from other stories in O’Brien’s The Things They Carried ), readers should not confuse the two. The author has deliberately created a fictional persona to tell this story. Like the author, the narrator Tim is a white male writer in his mid-forties, recalling his time as a soldier in Vietnam. He alternates between commenting on the construction of ‘‘true’’ war stories and memories that illustrate his points. Indeed, Tim’s first words in the story are ‘‘This is true.’’ Tim serves as the chief storyteller in...

(The entire section is 675 words.)