illustration of the backside of a soldier in full military gear

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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Chapter 8 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

The eighth story of The Things They Carried is “The Dentist.” The narrator explains that people often feel sentimental about the dead, and so he wants to tell a story about Curt Lemon. The narrator is quick to admit that he found it difficult to mourn when Curt Lemon was killed. Lemon was the sort of person that pretended to be tough, and the best thing that the narrator can remember about Lemon is when the latter dressed up and went trick-or-treating for Halloween. But Lemon was the sort of person that would brag and exaggerate about his accomplishments. Ultimately, the narrator suspects that Lemon either had too high an opinion of himself or else that he had a low opinion of himself that he was trying to erase. 

Lemon’s story begins in February. The platoon is working in an area called “Rocket Pocket,” a seaside glade where the enemy would launch rockets. For the soldiers, this duty is like a vacation because of its beaches. Eventually, the army sends a dentist who has bad breath to inspect and work on their teeth. The soldiers line up waiting for their turn to be inspected in the dentist’s tent, and Curt Lemon begins to get tense. He explains that he had some bad experiences with dentists while in high school. Lemon claims to enjoy combat, but he thinks that dentists are sadistic. He proclaims that he will not let the dentist touch his teeth, but when his name is called, he enters the dentist’s tent. 

However, Lemon faints before the dentist even touches him. The other soldiers end up hoisting him into a cot, and when Lemon comes to he is embarrassed. The narrator explains that any other soldier would have just laughed it off, but Lemon makes a big deal of it. He refuses to talk to anyone else and marches off to a tree where he can be on his own but still stare at the dentist’s tent. He berates himself out loud for fainting in front of everyone. The embarrassment continues to mount in his mind and that night he sneaks down to the dentist’s tent, wakes the dentist, and claims to have a terrible toothache. The dentist inspects his teeth but he cannot find anything wrong. Lemon continues to insist that he has a terrible toothache until the dentist finally removes the tooth. The next morning, the narrator recalls, “Curt Lemon was all smiles.”

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