The Things They Carried | Study Guide

Tim O'Brien

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The Things They Carried | Stockings | Summary



"Stockings" focuses on Henry Dobbins, a "good man" and "superb soldier" who performs an unusual ritual. He wraps his girlfriend's pantyhose around his throat before combat as a good luck charm. He sometimes sleeps with the pantyhose against his face as well, "breathing in" the scents that linger on them, making him think of a "soft and intimate" world in which he and his girlfriend could live. Henry and the other soldiers are fully convinced that the pantyhose protects him because Henry survives several close calls with "never a scratch." When Henry's girlfriend writes to tell him that their relationship is over, Henry quickly absorbs the blow, but the stockings remain his good-luck charm.


In "The Things They Carried," readers learn that many of the soldiers carry a some kind of lucky charm. Jimmy carries the pebble Martha sent, for a while; Kiowa carries his New Testament. These items convey a sense of safety and home, and the platoon members become "believers" in their power and importance. Superstitious beliefs are among the methods the soldiers use to cope with the war's terrifying monotony and sudden threats.

Even the introspective, thoughtful narrator, with his grasp of irony, comes to believe in the "magic" of Henry's girlfriend's stockings. At first the soldiers joke about Henry's ritual, but, as evidence mounts that Henry is mysteriously protected from harm, the narrator says that "you don't dispute facts." The stockings are also not only magical but "spiritual." They allow Henry to escape his surroundings to a safe and gentle place as he sleeps, and they retain their power even after his girlfriend breaks up with him.

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