Character Sketch in The Things They Carried

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Tim O’Brien, the protagonist, tells stories based on his personal experience in the Vietnam War. O’Brien is a pacifist who tries to rationalize his participation in the war. He concluded his feelings into joining the war “because [he] was embarrassed not to” fulfill the obligation toward his family and country (O’Brien 38). He is swayed by others influence rather than following his own beliefs. When the war is over, he becomes bewildered which leads him to tell stories of the tragedies he has witnessed.

O’Brien’s feelings of confusion over the atrocities he witnessed in Vietnam, including the death of several of his fellow soldiers, reveals his guilty conscience. His “daughter Kathleen tells [him] it’s an obsession” but in reality, O’Brien uses storytelling as solace in order to reveal what he has witnessed as a soldier (O’Brien 22). He uses storytelling as a coping mechanism and shares his experience with those untouched by the war such as his daughter. O’Brien remains to be an engaging man by sharing his stories with anyone who listens. Jimmy Cross shares with O’Brien that he has “got long memories” which reveals how observational he is (O’Brien 18).

Jimmy Cross is the lieutenant in charge of the entire group of men in the Alpha Company. Young and inexperienced Cross has good intentions yet he ill-equipped because he is unaware of how to assist his men in the field. As an undergraduate, Cross registered for the Reserve Officer Training Corps in order to receive extra credit in college. Throughout the war, Lieutenant Cross felt wracked with guilt because he feels that his love for a girl named Martha and his tendency to follow orders, despite his better judgment, caused the deaths of two members of the Alpha Company. Cross “had difficulty keeping his attention on the war” because he became obsessed with the fantasy of being with Martha (O’Brien 6). Cross’s reveals his guilt of Ted Lavender’s death.

Right before Lavender is killed, Cross allows himself to be distracted and deluded by the thoughts of Martha. His thoughts are interrupted by Lavender being shot. Cross feels ashamed for loving a girl who doesn’t love him back more than his men on the field with him. Years later, Cross confesses to O’Brien that he has “never forgiven himself for” Lavender’s death (O’Brien 18). Eventually, Kiowa is killed as a result of Lieutenant Cross’s poor judgment. He had his men set up at the coordinates he was given. A number of old mama-sans had warned him that the land was not a good spot to set up but as a lieutenant he had his orders. Cross wished he had “followed his first impulse” and looked for higher ground because later that day, Kiowa was shot and submerged into the mud in which they stood (O’Brien 107).

Kiowa is a Native American soldier who is apart of the Alpha Company. Kiowa is caring to his fellow men and has a deep concern to those in Vietnam in time of the war. The objects Kiowa carries reflect who he is and expose his deeper passions. In his pack, he carries the New Testament which is relective from his native heritage yet he is also a devoted Baptist. He helps the soldiers in the war by showing them that there is no need for excessive violence. Kiowa consistently continues to provide support to the men in the war because the war is more than they can handle. He offers each man what they need to get through the difficulties of fighting in the war.

After O’Brien kills a man, Kiowa attempts to ease his burden by shouldering some of the blame. He’s trying to help O’Brien understand the entire platoon is responsible for his death, not just him. Kiowa is often soft-spoken, and quite the opposite from many of the soldiers in the Alpha Company. He is practical, carrying moccasins in order to be able to walk silently and helping his fellow soldiers to rationalize their own unfortunate actions. Kiowa’s dies in a gruesome way by drowning under the muck of a sewage field. When Kiowa’s body becomes entirely submerged his body represents the transitory nature of life and how it can be taken away.

Ted Lavender is a fearful soldier in the Alpha Company during the Vietnam war. Lavender is the first to die in the work. He carries marijuana, tranquilizers, and extra ammo to ease his nerves. popping tranquilizers to calm himself while fighting in Than Khe. Because his death, like Curt Lemon’s, is preventable, illustrates the expendability of human life in a senseless war. Lee Strunk is sent down to a tunnel and while all of the other men waited to see if he would come back up, Ted Lavender popped some tranquilizers and went off to pee. While Lee Strunk re-emerges safely and everyone is laughing and joking with him about returning from the dead, Lavender is shot in the head as he walks back from peeing. Through Lavender’s death, O’Brien is able to show how quickly death happens in war.

Norman Bowker is a soldier who shares his stories after the war. Bowker shares a story from the 1970’s on July 4th evening and depicts Bowker driving around in a lake near his parents’ home. He aimlessly drives around town in hopes to talk to somebody about the Vietnam War. Bowker replays several key events about his time in Vietnam, including the death of Kiowa. He tells the stories as if he was talking to his ex-girlfriend or his father. Norman shows the difficulty of returning home to America after the violence and chaos of serving in the Vietnam War.

Norman Bowker depicts an immense amount of guilt from horrible incidents that took place in Vietnam in which he failed to save the life of a fellow soldier. One night after a mortar attack Kiowa was hit and started sinking in the mud. After attempting to pull him out, Bowker gets overwhelmed by the smell of the area and lets Kiowa slide down beneath the mud. After reflecting on this tragedy, Norman cannot get over the fact that he did not stay in order to save Kiowa.

Elroy Berdahl is an older gentleman who offers shelter, food and friendship to Tim, who desperately runs away from home after receiving his draft notice. Berdahl remains silent yet supportive while Tim is deciding if he should cross the Canadian border. Berdahl consistently offers opportunities for him to do so. O’Brien uses Elroy to show that many Americans were doubtful of the war’s necessity and benefit. He also serves as a reminder of what a hero can look like to Tim, a quiet but strong man who allows others to make important choices for themselves.


Cite this paper

Character Sketch in The Things They Carried. (2021, Jan 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/character-sketch-in-the-things-they-carried/



What did each character in The Things They Carried carry?
The characters in The Things They Carried carried various physical and emotional burdens, including weapons, letters from home, memories of loved ones, and the weight of their own guilt and trauma. Each item represented a piece of their individual stories and the collective experience of the Vietnam War.
Who is the main character in the story The Things They Carried?
The main character in the story is Tim O'Brien. He is a Vietnam War veteran who is struggling to deal with the memories of his time in the war.
Who is the most interesting character in The Things They Carried?
The most interesting character in The Things They Carried is Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. He is interesting because he is a young man who is struggling to find his place in the world and to deal with the responsibility of leading his men.
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