The Things They Carried | Study Guide

Tim O'Brien

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The Things They Carried | Love | Summary

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Summary

Years after the war, Jimmy Cross visits the narrator. They reminisce, looking at photos of the platoon, "the faces incredibly soft and young." Jimmy still feels guilt about Ted Lavender's death. The narrator asks about Martha, and Jimmy shows him a framed photo—a copy of one of the photos he burned in 1969. He saw Martha at a college reunion and found that he still loved her. Martha became a missionary and never married. Jimmy confesses his regret to Martha—that he hadn't carried her to his room, years ago. Martha closes her eyes and questions "how men could do those things," and Jimmy understands that Martha wants to keep her distance for her own reasons. Still, she replaces the photo. Jimmy tells the narrator, "It doesn't matter. ... I love her."

Before Jimmy leaves, the narrator asks if he can write Jimmy's story. Jimmy agrees, if the narrator will write him as "a good guy ... brave and handsome." He also asks the narrator not to "mention anything about" something unspecified, and the narrator agrees.

Analysis

The traits that prompted Jimmy to sacrifice for his men's safety by thrusting the thought of Martha from his mind in the title story are still present in the man who continues to feel remorse over Ted's death as he visits the narrator years later. Love is a recurrent theme in stories in which Lieutenant Cross appears. He often must sacrifice one kind of love for another. Out of love Jimmy tries to lead, protect, and comfort his soldiers, even at a cost to himself. Not only does he destroy Martha's letters and photos, but he also stays slightly detached from the soldiers so that he is not distracted in moments of danger. He suffers loneliness on their account. Out of love Jimmy walks away from Martha again when they meet a decade after the war, respecting her boundaries. Despite his failures Jimmy tries to be the man he asks the narrator to create in his story: "best platoon leader ever," a courageous man who put his men before himself and had compassion for their suffering.

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