illustration of the backside of a soldier in full military gear

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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Chapter 11 Summary

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The eleventh story in The Things They Carried is “Church.” The platoon is in the Batangan Peninsula when they come across a pagoda that they initially think is abandoned. However, there are actually two monks inside who speak very little English. They have a few broken shrines and maintain a modest garden. The platoon digs foxholes around the pagoda so that they can base their operations out of the pagoda for the next week. When the monks see that the platoon has turned their pagoda into a fortress, one of them makes a washing motion with his hands. None of the soldiers understand what the gesture means. Still, the platoon and the monks get along. They even bring the soldiers watermelons and buckets of water and Lieutenant Cross is given an old chair to honor his position. However, none of the soldiers bond as strongly with the monks as Henry Dobbins does.

They call him “Good soldier Jesus.” He and the monks even disassemble and oil his gun together, and as they do so the other soldiers observe how Dobbins and the monks share a quiet understanding with each other. While the monks clean his gun, Dobbins admits to Kiowa that after the war he might join the monks, or at least become a monk. As a child, Dobbins never understood religion. During church, he would count bricks on the walls rather than listen to the sermon. Ironically, he often wondered what it would be like to be a minister. He may not be smart enough to explain why bad things like pneumonia exist, but he does feel like he could be nice to people. Kiowa, who carries a bible and hardly even swears, explains that he would never be a minister. However, he does like to be inside of churches because though they are really quiet, there is also a sound that cannot be heard. After Kiowa explains how he feels when he is inside a church, he sits up and tells Dobbins that turning the pagoda into a fortress is wrong. Dobbins agrees.

By this time, the monks have finished cleaning the gun. Dobbins reassembles it, wipes off the oil, and hands each monk a can of peaches and a chocolate bar. He tells them to “beat it,” and the monks bow before moving out of the pagoda and into the morning sunlight. Dobbins makes a washing motion with his hands and says, “all you can do is be nice. Treat them decent, you know?”

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Chapter 10 Summary

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Chapter 12 Summary