The Things They Carried | Study Guide

Tim O'Brien

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The Things They Carried | In the Field | Summary



The platoon searches for Kiowa's body. Lieutenant Cross notices a shaky young soldier exploring the mud with his hands. Jimmy is trained to treat soldiers as "interchangeable units of command," but he sees them as "human beings." Kiowa had been the "very best" kind of man. As he oversees the search, Jimmy drafts the letter to Kiowa's father in his head. Norman and Mitchell search an area, tolerating Azar's jokes about Kiowa "biting the dirt" and being "wasted in the waste." When Norman finds a rucksack with moccasins, Mitchell rages against Lieutenant Cross for choosing the disastrous campsite. Norman says, "Nobody knew till afterward," but Jimmy regrets not following his impulse to look for higher ground, despite orders. He decides to "admit to the blunders" in his letter to Kiowa's father.

The young soldier and Kiowa, "close buddies," had been talking about home under their ponchos when the soldier switched on his flashlight, "like a target shining in the dark," to show Kiowa a photo of his girlfriend. Kiowa was saying, "Hey, she's cute," when a shell hit. The soldier crawled toward the "ragged and clotted sound" of Kiowa's scream. He found Kiowa largely submerged in the mud; he pulled on Kiowa's boot, but "the field seemed to pull back." Now he searches desperately for the photo of his girlfriend, which he lost there.

The task of digging out Kiowa's body sickens even Azar, who apologizes for the "dumb jokes." They call in a chopper, feeling "a secret joy" because they are still alive. Jimmy Cross decides to write the letter after the war.


"In the Field" is the third selection to deal with Kiowa's death and describes the event's impact on an unnamed young soldier. This soldier fights tears as he digs as if "chasing some creature" in the muck. He talks all the while to "an absent judge," not seeking forgiveness or trying to dodge blame but to "lay out the full causes." In his fragile, traumatized state of mind, although so little time passed between his turning the light on and the shell falling, the soldier is convinced that he "killed" Kiowa.

Jimmy Cross feels guilty too. Military leadership is antithetical to his nature, and though he works hard for his men, he feels he has failed them again. He's been in command for months yet still couldn't keep his men "out of a shit field." He wants to explain to Kiowa's father about his orders and describe how the shells and flooding combined, "swallowing" gear and Kiowa into "the waste and the war." Jimmy imagines "letting the field take him" too. Something must bear the blame: the war, "the idiots who made the war," Kiowa for serving, the rain and river and mud, the enemy that fired the rounds, people "bored by the daily body counts," God, Karl Marx (1818–1883), or even "an old man in Omaha who forgot to vote." Norman sums up the responsibility for Kiowa's death: "Nobody's fault. ... Everybody's."

Questions for In the Field

View all Scholarly journal articles are A. Written by journalists B. Reviewed by experts in the field for validity C. Intended for the general public D. All
Please I need some help for this essay. The prompt is very vague. I need a sample essay just to get an idea so I can write my own. Thank you Becoming a Professional in the Field/Write a Letter Seeking
1.Review the following excerpt from paragraph 8 of the selection: “They occupied parks and a row of condemned buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and the Capitol. When new arr
Need help with this quiz! notes that numbers 2,3 and 4 could have more than one answer.
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