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Free Study Guide-The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien-Free Book Notes
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Because this novel is a compilation of various episodes from the author’s life, the settings vary in terms of both time and space. Most of the stories take place in Vietnam, during his tour of duty in the late 1960s. But he also relates memories from life in his hometown in Massachusetts, before the war and after the war in the 1980s. A few do not involve him at all, except as the narrator, and instead concern his buddies or legends from the conflict.



Tim O’Brien

The protagonist of the novel. He is a Vietnam veteran who has become a writer since returning home from the war. The stories of his platoon are told through his eyes and involve the tragedy, camaraderie, and ugliness of war.

Lt. Jimmy Cross

The Commanding officer of Alpha Company. He is obsessed with a girl back home in New Jersey, and his preoccupation with her distract his attention from the war and sometimes leads to casualties. This leaves him with an overwhelming sense of guilt.


A deeply religious American Indian soldier in Alpha Company who is respected and loved by the entire platoon. His death deeply affects O’Brien, as well as other soldiers.

Norman Bowker

Another member of Alpha Company who survives the war, but is unable to make the transition form soldier back to civilian. His experiences have isolated him from the people back home, and eventually he commits suicide.


A young brash soldier who enjoys playing pranks and the thrill of playing guns. His immaturity clouds his perspective, making the line between fantasy and reality very blurry. He has little respect for the army, the Vietnamese people, or even his fellow soldiers.

Rat Kiley

The company’s first rate medic and a soldier who loves to embellish a good story. He loses his perspective during a series of night marches and shoots himself in the foot so he can time off.


Elroy Berdahl

The proprietor of the Tip Top fishing lodge. He takes O’Brien in for a week and stands vigil while the frightened young man decides whether to report for the war or head to Canada.

Curt Lemon

A soldier in Alpha Company who is always trying to impress others with his crazy stunts and bravery. He goes trick or treating stark naked with a death mask on his head and black paint all over his body.

Mark Fossie

A medic who once worked in the same outfit as Rat Kiley. He brings his girlfriend over to Vietnam, only to watch her transform from a naive American teenager into a killing machine. (See symbols/motifs)

Bobby Jorgensen

The medic who replaces Rat Kiley. During his first week he botches a patchup job on O’Brien’s butt wound, and O’Brien has to flown to the rear for several weeks as a result. In attempt at revenge, O’Brien plans a prank on Jorgensen.


O’Brien’s first girlfriend. They went to a movie together with his parents when he was nine years olds. Later the same year she died from a brain tumor.

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Free Study Guide-The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien-Free Chapter Notes


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