Chapter 10 Summary
The tenth story in The Things They Carried is “Stockings,” and it is about Henry Dobbins. Dobbins, the narrator explains, is like America in many ways: he was a good person, an excellent solider, and he was always plodding along, however slowly. He was not a sophisticated man, he had a roll of fat in his belly, and “the ironies went beyond him.” He was a soldier who was there when needed. He believed in simplicity, direct thoughts, and hard work. And he was drawn to sentimentality.
This sentimentality could be seen in the way that he used his girlfriend’s stockings to bring him good luck. Before leaving camp on ambush, he would always wrap the pantyhose around his neck. At night, he would sleep with the pantyhose against his face. He would smell the stockings and he would breathe in the scent of his girlfriend’s odor to recall his memories of her. The narrator compares Dobbins to a baby, particularly in the way that an infant would feel secure and peaceful when near something it recognizes.
Henry Dobbins would explain to the rest of the platoon that the stockings were a good-luck charm for him. The rest of the platoon, naturally, doubted it, though the narrator admits that many of the soldiers felt the “pull of superstition” while in the war. Regardless, Dobbins’ faith in the stockings and their protective properties was absolute. For him, they were like body armor, as important to him as the flak jackets were to the rest of the platoon. To the narrator, the stockings were like Dobbins' talisman because of the way that they seemed to transport him to a spiritual world where he and his girlfriend might someday live. Dobbins even had rituals related to the stockings, including a special knot he used to tie them around his neck.
While much the platoon might have doubted the protective properties of a pair of nylon pantyhose, they eventually came to appreciate their mysteries. Dobbins was never injured – not even scratched. In August, Dobbins set off a Bouncing Betty, a massive mine, but it did not even detonate. A week after he set off the mine, he found himself without cover during a firefight. However, the narrator recalls that Dobbins just pulled the pantynose over his nose and breathed in the magic of the stockings. The platoon became believers in the pantyhose.
Toward the end of October, Dobbins’ girlfriend would dump him, and for a while Dobbins took in the blow as he stared at the letter. However, he decided to continue wearing the stockings, reasoning that “the magic doesn’t go away.”