Characters are human beings in novels, stories, and poems. The authors show their beliefs, ideas and philosophical foundations through these characters. Characters in The Things They Carried also teach the readers various things about war, battle, memory, and people. Some characters of The Things They Carried have been discussed below.
Characters in The Things They Carried
Tim O’Brien uses himself as a fictionalized narrator and the protagonist in all the stories. As a young man, he has come to Vietnam and leaves the battlefield as a devasted. He does not know how to cope with the painful memories and harrowing experiences of war. Therefore, he recalls his memories about different people, who have lived or dealt with him during the war and tells their stories. He makes generalizations about war and also talks about love, relations, people and their motives for taking actions. He shows that even a rational person can become insane during the war. Stories remind him what he has gone through and allows him to come to terms with the war experiences.
The second major character after Tim O’Brien, Jimmy represents immature characters who cannot bear the burden of responsibilities. As a student, he joins the reserves training because his other friends are going for it. However, at heart, he is not sure about his devotion and dedication for fighting a war and only enters the battle with others uncertain of what he is to do. That is why he feels guilty when his men start falling down. The guilt increases with the death of his friend, Lavender. He, then, starts thinking about his old beloved Martha and death of Lavender to find an escape from the bitter realities of war. Later confesses before O’ Brien how the deaths impacted him mentally. He also tries to forget Martha by burning her letters so that he could stay with the grief of his men.
Mitchell, a soldier and a devoted comrade of Jimmy Cross and O’Brien. Not only he knows the sense of loyalty but also knows the situation in which he is trapped. He refuses to avenge Jorgenson when O’Brien turns toward him and help Kiley when he decides to leave Vietnam by becoming an injured soldier. A truly rational and analytical mind, he questions Jimmy Cross for sending his troops to the field and getting Kiowa killed in the venture. True to his pragmatic nature, he turns to storytelling and believes that war stories, lacking morals, become harrowing and complex tales.
Kiowa is a diligent soldier and a very thoughtful human being with compassion for others. He helps others when they are in need. He even helps O’ Brien when he faces depression for killing a young Vietnamese. With his religious and native background, he has brought a new aspect of the soldiering in the Vietnamese environment. It proves highly unfortunate that he becomes a victim of his commander’s mistake and dies when going through the fields. He submerges in the sewage and becomes another casualty of the senseless war.
A representative of common soldiers, Bowker suffers from survivor guilt after the death of many of his colleagues. His sense of comradery is strong enough to make him feel the presence of his dead comrades. The death of his colleague, Kiowa, impacts him so much so that he could not adjust to civilian life later. Ultimately this acute depression takes his life, and he kills himself.
Kiley, as the caregiver of the entire company, falls into the trap of telling stories. He is an expert in creating stories and exaggerating the events. He has a magical healing touch as a medic and proves a helping hand for O’Brien when he is shot. Finally, when he sees that war can take a heavy toll on him, he injures himself to leave.
An infantry soldier of the same company, Azar is among those wild creatures who enjoy the mess. He becomes highly jubilant when he lands in the battlefield and even cuts jokes about death, enjoying dark humor. In fact, such characters enjoy the mess where they demonstrate their true nature without facing any consequences.
An epitome of the American infantry, Dobbins symbolizes the power of the American army. Despite having a large body, he is very empathetic to others and expresses sympathy when somebody is unfairly treated. Henry Dobbins treats everyone equally well despite being incongruous with the circumstances in which he is placed as a gunner. It is Dobbins who raises philosophical issues of truth and memory and prods minds of the readers with human experiences.
He is a macho soldier who is always busy in impressing upon other soldiers and resorts to doing tricky and tough stunts to prove his strength. To satiate his hungry ego, he then brags about his stunts and manliness but becomes highly fidgety when a real dentist visits the camp, and he has to visit him. His stupidity takes a heavy toll on his own tooth when he forces the dentist to remove it merely to show his boldness before the dentist though he has already shown that he is afraid of him. He finally meets his end through a grisly death.
She is the beloved of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross whom he often recalls her seeing her picture that he keeps with him and telling stories about her to his friends. Although this is unrequited love, Jimmy Cross continues loving her. She later joins missionaries and decides not to marry.