Literapedia Book Notes for

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien


  • 1st Lt. Jimmy Cross (ch 1)—the leader of a platoon of soldiers in Vietnam.
  • Henry Dobbins (ch 1)—a machine-gunner who wears his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck.
  • Dave Jensen (ch 1)—a soldier prone to remorse.
  • Ted Lavendar (ch 1)—a nervous soldier who uses tranquilizers.
  • Mitchell Sanders (ch 1)—an RTO (radio carrier) who looks for morals in the scenes he witnesses.
  • Norman Bowker (ch 1)—a soldier who feels guilt over the death of Kiowa and later kills himself.
  • Bob “Rat” Kiley (ch 1)—a medic who kills a baby water buffalo in anger after Curt Lemon’s death.
  • Kiowa (ch 1)—an American Indian soldier.
  • Lee Strunk (ch 1)—a soldier who goes into a tunnel outside of Than Khe in chapter 1.
  • Tim O’Brien / “I” (ch 2)—a 43 year-old writer. At times he seems synonymous with the author of the book.
  • Azar (ch 3)—a soldier with a dark sense of humor.
  • Curt Lemon (ch 3)—a soldier who is killed by stepping on a mine. Bobby Jorgenson (ch 20)—a medic who does a poor job of treating Tim’s second wound.

Chapter Summaries

  1. The Things They Carried) Lieutenant Jimmy Cross tries to keep his mind on his men, but he can’t help thinking about Martha, a girl back home. Outside of a village called Than Khe, Ted Lavendar is shot and killed
  2. Love) After meeting with Jimmy Cross years after the war, Tim O’Brien decides to write about his experiences in Vietnam.
  3. Spin) Tim explores the reasons for writing stories about his experiences in Vietnam.
  4. On the Rainy River) Tim receives notice that he is drafted into the war in Vietnam. He travels to the U.S./Canadian border, and stays at the Tip Top Lodge, a resort owned by Elroy Berdahl. There Tim contemplates avoiding the draft.
  5. Enemies) Jensen and Strunk get into a fight, and Jensen breaks Strunk’s nose. Later Jensen breaks his own nose as a conciliatory gesture.
  6. Friends) Jensen and Strunk each make a pact to kill the other if the other is maimed. Strunk steps on a mortar, but Jensen doesn’t kill him.
  7. How to Tell a True War Story) Curt Lemon is killed by stepping on a grenade, and his body is blown into a tree. Rat Kiley writes Curt’s sister, who never writes back. Sanders tells a story about a patrol who hears the noises of a cocktail party in the jungle. Rat Kiley kills a baby water buffalo for sport. Tim explores the meaning of a “true” war story.
  8. The Dentist) Curt Lemon faints in a dentist’s office. Later he has the dentist extract a healthy tooth.
  9. Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong) Rat Kiley tells a story about a soldier named Mark Fosse, who has his girlfriend, Mary Anne Bell, come to Vietnam. Eventually, Mary Anne takes off with a group of Green Berets.\
  10. Stockings) Henry Dobbins wears his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck as a good luck charm even after she dumps him.
  11. Church) The platoon sets up camp in a monastery. Kiowa and Dobbins share their feelings about religion.
  12. The Man I Killed) Tim imagines the life of a Vietnamese soldier he had just killed. Kiowa attempts to comfort him.
  13. Ambush) Tim’s young daughter Kathleen asks him if he killed anyone, and Tim lies that he hasn’t. Tim describes the situation when he had killed a man.
  14. Style) In a burned out village, the platoon finds a dancing girl. Later Azar mocks the dance, and Dobbins makes him stop.
  15. Speaking of Courage) After the war Norman Bowker spends time driving around a lake in his hometown. He wants to tell the story of Kiowa’s death but is unable to.
  16. Notes) Tim describes how he wrote and then revised the previous chapter. (Here “Tim the narrator” is closely identified with Tim O’Brien the author of this book.)
  17. In the Field) The circumstances of Kiowa’s death in the “shit field” next to the Song Tra Bong river is described. Both Cross and “the young soldier” feel responsible for Kiowa’s death.
  18. Good Form) Tim claims that “In the Field” and the story of the man he killed were both invented. Tim explores the difference between “happening-truth” and “story-truth.”
  19. Field Trip) Years after the war Tim and his daughter Kathleen visit Vietnam and the site of Kiowa’s death.
  20. The Ghost Soldiers) Tim describes being wounded and how Jorgenson failed to take proper care of him. Later Tim and Azar play a practical joke on Jorgenson, who is doing evening guard duty.
  21. Night Life) The platoon serves almost two weeks of night patrols. Rat Kiley has a breakdown and shoots himself in the foot.
  22. The Lives of the Dead) The platoon finds a dead man in a village, and all except Tim joke around with the corpse. The story of the aftermath of Ted Lavendar’s death is retold. Tim remembers his first love, a nine year old girl named Linda, and how she died of a brain tumor.

Book Note Creator

Hal Waller, instructor