illustration of the backside of a soldier in full military gear

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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Chapter 14 Summary

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The fourteenth story in The Things They Carried is “Style.” The story is set against the backdrop of a burning Vietnamese village. In front of one house, a girl stands dancing. The dark-haired girl is perhaps fourteen, her eyes are half closed, and she stands barefoot. She is dancing on her toes, but there is no music playing. Azar wonders why the girl is dancing and Henry Dobbins replies that it does not matter. The narrator explains that the girl’s family is dead. The dead family's bodies were burned when the soldiers discovered them. There was an old woman, a woman whose age the soldiers cannot discern, and an infant. There was also a girl, whom they dragged out of the wreckage, and who is dancing in small steps with an occasional smile on her face. She sometimes covers her ears, a gesture that the soldiers try and fail to interpret. They look at her movements, sometimes backwards, sometimes side to side, sometimes swaying her hips, and again cannot figure out the girl’s dance.

As the soldiers search the wreckage, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross radios the gunships to notify them that they can leave. The narrator compares the smell of the smoke coming from the burning hootches to straw. The fires have mostly burned out and the smoke that remains is not very thick. It moves in “faint ripples like fog,” and sometimes the dancing girl moves through those plumes of smoke. There are dead pigs, but Rat Kiley ends up finding a chicken that the soldiers will eat for supper. The soldiers move out by nightfall, leaving the dancing girl behind. Azar looks at the dancing girl and thinks that she is probably doing a ritual dance, but Henry Dobbins thinks that she probably just likes to dance.

As the soldiers march away from the village, Azar begins to make fun of the girl’s dance. He mimics her motions, her hands over her ears and the way she would move sideways and then backwards. He even tries to move his hips like she did. At this point, Henry Dobbins approaches Azar from behind, lifts him up, and carries him to a deep well. The narrator notices the grace with which Dobbins moves as he carries Azar. When they reach the well, Dobbins holds Azar over the water and asks Azar if he would like to be dunked in the water. Azar does not. Dobbins agrees not to dunk Azar, but tells him to “dance right.”

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