The Things They Carried | Study Guide

Tim O'Brien

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The Things They Carried | Enemies | Summary



While Alpha Company is on patrol, Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk have a "vicious" fight over "something stupid"—Dave's missing jackknife. Dave hits Lee repeatedly, breaking Lee's nose, and he is so furious that it takes three men to separate them. When Lee returns from treatment, Dave becomes "skittish." Fearful of Lee's possible retaliation, Dave can hardly sleep. One day he grabs a weapon and begins firing into the air, shouting Lee's name, while the other men hit the ground. Then he sits for hours, head in hands, motionless.

Later that night, Dave breaks his own nose with a pistol. He shows Lee what he has done and asks "if everything was square." Lee agrees but later laughs, calls Dave "crazy," and admits that he'd stolen the knife.


The narrator reminds readers that the soldiers are young. Lieutenant Cross is only 24; the others are often no more than 19 or 20. Some may be career military, but many, like the narrator, were drafted and have only brief military training. They are not prepared for the stresses of war. Dave Jensen can't sleep, hallucinates threats, and loses the "distinction between good guys and bad guys." Dave acts strangely because he feels that he's "fighting two different wars"—one happening around him and another happening inside him.

Dave's actions in "Enemies" are motivated not only by fear but also by guilt and shame. Unable to tell friend from enemy, Dave attacks a fellow soldier, then must punish himself painfully. Yet, in a sense, Lee also acted as an enemy, stealing one of the things Dave carries to increase his chances of survival. The knife is a useful and necessary tool. The stresses of war influence both men to mistreat a fellow soldier.

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