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The Things They Carried | Style | Summary

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Summary

Alpha Company patrols a burned village where a girl of perhaps 14 dances by the ruins of her home, which has been burned down with her family inside. Rat Kiley catches a chicken for dinner, Lieutenant Cross radios to stop the attack, and other soldiers go about their duties, which include carrying the remains of the girl's family out of the ruins of their home—yet she takes no notice. She just dances, "mostly on her toes," and covers her ears with her palms, "sometimes smiling to herself." Azar asks why she dances, and Henry says that "it didn't matter why, she just was."

Later Azar decides that the dance is "some weird ritual" and begins to imitate the girl mockingly. Henry carries Azar to a well and threatens to dump him in if he doesn't "dance right" and stop ridiculing the girl.

Analysis

Azar and Henry act as each other's foil in this brief story, which means that each character behaves in ways that contrast with and draw attention to the other. Henry believes that people should be "decent" to each other. Azar, on the other hand, is the company clown, unpredictable and callous. Henry respects the South Vietnamese and has quiet compassion for the girl; he defends her twice against Azar's nosy questions. Perhaps, he says, she "just liked to dance."

The two men reveal different views of the Vietnamese people for whom they are fighting. Henry respects these people; to Azar they're curiosities, almost like people in a freak show, subject to his insulting superiority. As in "Church," the narrator doesn't comment on the exchange but allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Even so, the narrator shows some sympathy in his description of a home turned to "smoke" and in his remark that Henry's movements, as he lifts Azar, are "graceful" like the dancer's.

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