There are 3 main characters in The Things They Carried including the narrator and protagonist Tim O’Brien. O’Brien relates his traumatic experiences during the Vietnam war as a collection of stories. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is his commanding officer, someone who has to learn how to become an effective leader. Kiowa is another foot soldier, who becomes O’Brien’s best friend and whose death impacts everyone in the squad. Let’s dive into the analysis of the characters in The Things They Carried
Main Characters in The Things They Carried
Tim O’Brien is the author as well as the narrator and protagonist of the story. The story is presented from a fictionalized version of O’Brien who recounts his previous experiences in the war as a middle-aged writer. We follow his experiences starting as a young, terrified, foot soldier in Vietnam. An intellectual and thoughtful man, O’Brien speaks about the horrors of war and how extreme circumstances can make people do unspeakable things.
He came to the war unwilling to fight and unprepared, but over the course of the next few years turns into a battle-hardened veteran. He writes as a way of confronting and dealing with the painful and traumatic things he saw and did. He sometimes speaks in the first person and sometimes in the third person, allowing the reader to get multiple perspectives on war. Apart from standard gear, he carries a sense of terror with every step he takes during his time in Vietnam.
Lieutenant Jimmy Cross
Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is the leader of Alpha Company. He tries to be the best leader he can, sacrificing his own wants and desires for the benefit of the unit, though admits that he isn’t perfect. He starts out unsure of how to lead and caring more about being well-liked than respected. He pines over Martha, a girl he exchanged letters with until he realizes after a unit member is killed that he needs to focus on his responsibilities. He grows into a capable leader who is both liked and respected. He carries letters, photos, and a pebble from a girl named Martha.
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Kiowa is a Native American foot soldier in Alpha Company. An honest hardworking, and empathetic person, he becomes O’Brien’s best friend in Vietnam. As a Native American and a Baptist, he brings a unique perspective to Alpha Company. He dies horribly, not on the battlefield, but drowned in a swamp. His death makes him one of the most important The Things They Carried characters, representing the arbitrary nature of war, and affecting O’Brien and the other Alpha Company members deeply. He carries his grandfather’s hunting hatchet, a pair of moccasins, and an illustrated New Testament with him.
Minor The Things They Carried Characters
Mitchel Sanders is the experienced Radio Officer of Alpha Company. He offers advice and insight to the other members of the squad and is a calming influence in the middle of the chaos of war. He is unafraid to say what he thinks and is central to many stories in the book. He blames Lt. Cross for Kiowa’s death, sparking many changes in the commanding officer. He carries condoms, brass knuckles, and the unit's radio.
Norman Bowker is a foot soldier in Alpha Company. He is a thoughtful man who writes a lot in his diary but is unable to talk about his experiences out loud. He suffers through survivor’s guilt and finds it difficult to adjust to civilian life after the war. He eventually commits suicide. The object he carries with him is a journal.
Elroy Berdahl is an elderly man who runs a lodge close to the Canadian Border. O’Brien spends six days with him after being drafted and his wisdom helps him make the decision whether to go to war or run away to Canada.
Mary Anne Bell
Mary Anne Bell is Mark Fossie’s girlfriend who turns into a vigilante after she arrives in Vietnam to visit her boyfriend. She arrives innocent, but becomes obsessed with the war and starts going out on raids and ambushes. She becomes a legend amongst the men.
Henry Dobbins is Alpha Company’s machine gunner. A physically intimidating man, he is actually gentle and caring. He treats everyone with respect and dislikes cruelty. He represents that paradox of war and carries an M60 machine gun, extra ammunition, canned peaches, and his girlfriend’s pantyhose.
Bob “Rat” Kiley
Bob Kiley is Alpha Company’s medic. He is an excellent medic and a talented storyteller who keeps the morale of the troops high. He eventually succumbs to the violence he sees around him, torturing an animal after his best friend Curt Lemon’s death. He blows off a finger so that he is sent back home. He carries brandy, comic books, and M&M candy.
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Curt Lemon is a foot soldier in Alpha Company. He is immature and childish and not very well-liked within the squad, but his death impacts everyone strongly. He steps on a land mine while playing a game with his best friend Bob Kiley. He represents how young many of the recruits to Vietnam were.
Ted Lavender is a foot soldier in Alpha Company. He is young and afraid, eating tranquilizers to calm his nerves. He is the first person to die in the story. He carries marijuana and tranquilizers with him.
Lee Strunk is a foot soldier in Alpha Company, he makes a pact with another soldier Dave Jensen that if either of them is seriously hurt the other will kill him. An argument with Dave ends with Strunk getting a broken nose and he begs Dave not to kill him. He carries a slingshot with him.
Dave Jensen is a foot soldier in Alpha company and is part of a pact with Lee Strunk to kill each other if either is seriously hurt. Jensen breaks his own nose after he breaks Strunk’s because of guilt. When Strunk dies, rather than feel sorry for the loss of his friend, Jensen feels relieved that their pact is no longer in effect. He carries night-sight vitamins.
Azar is a foot soldier in Alpha Company. He is one of the few cruel characters of The Things They Carried, torturing locals and making fun of dead bodies. A deeply unpleasant character, he only shows some remorse when he helps find Kiowa’s body.
Bobby Jorgenson is the medic that replaces Rat Kiley. He isn’t as good of a medic as Rat. When O’Brien is shot, Jorgenson is too afraid to help quickly which leads to an infection.
Kathleen is one of O’Brien’s children and the only one we meet in the story. He tries to describe war to her and is frustrated that he can’t explain it fully. She helps him see the war from a different perspective.
Mark Fossie is Mary Anne Bell’s boyfriend. He is a medic in a different squad. He loses his girlfriend when she becomes obsessed with the war.
To Sum Up
The Things They Carried is an exceptional war story. The multiple perspectives it brings along with the way the characters are described and evolve makes it one of the best stories to try to understand the experience of war. If you need any help with an essay on the characters from The Things They Carried, reach out to the experts at Studyfy. They have years of experience helping students with homework, essays, tutoring, and more!