The Things They Carried | Study Guide

Tim O'Brien

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The Things They Carried | Friends | Summary



"Friends" is the other half of Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk's story and happens after the events in "Enemies." Lee and Dave don't become "instant buddies," but they learn to rely on each other. They decide that, if one of them suffers a "wheelchair wound," the other will "find a way to end it" rather than let the injured man live, and they even put their agreement in writing. Then, a rigged mortar tears Lee's right leg off at the knee. As Rat Kiley begins treatment on the leg, Dave kneels beside Lee. Lee, confused and panicky, pulls away from Dave, begging, "Don't kill me." Dave promises not to hold to the agreement, but Lee makes him swear to it.

Lee is airlifted to get medical treatment. When the company learns that Lee didn't survive the flight, the narrator thinks that Dave looks as if an "enormous weight" has been lifted from him.


Critics praise O'Brien's writing as clean, straightforward, precise, and unsparing of painful details. The description of Lee's injury in "Friends" provides a good example of O'Brien's ability to capture perilous moments in close detail. The fact of the injury is downplayed: "Lee Strunk stepped on a rigged mortar." But what happens next is described in such sensory detail that readers can see the scene. Lee takes "a funny little half step" and cusses as if he'd only "stubbed a toe." He tries to run but falls, the severed leg "twitching" as his heart pumps blood in "quick spurts." Lee's mental state is also described in detail. His idea that death is better than a "wheelchair wound" collapses immediately when tested by reality and is seen for what it was: the bravado of young soldiers.

The exchange between Lee and Dave doesn't spare readers. Readers recognize Lee's denial ("It's not so bad") and may be moved by Dave's gesture—a gentle touch to Lee's good leg as Lee is loaded into the chopper. But then Dave says, "Go on now," conveying a more realistic grasp of the seriousness of Lee's injury.

Questions for Friends

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