Chapter 2 Summary
The second story of The Things They Carried is “Love.” It is set years after the war, and the narrator explains that the former First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross has come to visit his home in Massachusetts. There, he and the narrator drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and talk about all of the things that the platoon carried with them. The war is over, but it is not forgotten. There are photos of the soldiers from the old platoon, including Rat Kiley and Kiowa. Jimmy still carries the guilt he feels for Ted Lavender’s death. The narrator explains that he carries his own feelings of guilt and blame about things that happened during the war.
Jimmy and the narrator start drinking gin and are soon laughing about their old friends. They talk about Rat Kiley’s comic books and the way Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck as if it were a comforter. The narrator asks Jimmy Cross about Martha, and Jimmy reveals a new photo that Martha gave him after the war. It is a photo of her playing volleyball. Jimmy and Martha never got married after the war, though he did still love her when they saw each other again in 1979. It was a college reunion, and Martha had become a Lutheran missionary and a nurse. She never married.
Jimmy and Martha go on a walk. He explains that he still loves her. However, Martha shuts her grey eyes. He continues, explaining that when they had last seen each other before the war, he had almost taken her to her room so that he could tie her to her bed and touch her knee with his hand. Martha says that she is glad he never tried and that she could never understand why men do “the things men do.” When he tells her that he burned her photo, she gives him another one. Even now, Jimmy tells the narrator, he still loves Martha.
The narrator is a writer. He explains that he might like to write a story about Jimmy and Martha. Jimmy suggests that it might make her fall in love with him if she should read it. He tells the narrator to present him as a strong leader, one who is handsome and brave. As he is leaving in his car, he asks the narrator for a favor: "not to mention anything about...." Jimmy's sentence is interrupted before the request is made. The narrator replies, “I won’t.”