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Free Study Guide-The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER TWO (Love)

Summary

Many years later, (Lieutenant) Jimmy Cross visited the author at his home in Massachusetts, where they reminisced about the war. Cross confesses he’d never forgiven himself for Lavender’s death that day. He tells O’Brien that he’d met Martha again at a high school reunion; she’d spent time as a missionary in Africa and never married. When Cross reminds Martha of his love for her, she only looks at him with a vague misunderstanding. She doesn’t understand how men do the things they do. O’Brien remarks that he would like to one day write a story about all this, and Cross wants to be portrayed as a hero. Cross tells O’Brien “Don’t mention anything about ...” O’Brien promises he won’t.

Notes

Despite his undying devotion to Martha, when they meet again Cross finally realizes that there is an unbridgeable gulf between them. Martha spent her post-college years doing volunteer service, and Cross spent his killing people in Vietnam. Martha cannot comprehend Cross, because his soldier past horrifies her. It is an example of how the experiences of a Vietnam vet continue to isolate him from loved ones long after he’s returned from the war.


CHAPTER THREE (Spin)

Summary

On occasions, you could put a spin on the war, or make it dance like a ping-pong ball. Like when Sanders picked the lice off his body, sealed them up in an envelope and mailed them to his draft board. Or a stoned Ted Lavender saying “We got ourselves a mellow war today.” Or Rat Kiley’s mantra for walking through the minefield - “Step out of line, hit a mine. Follow the dink, you’re in the pink.” (Page 33)

The real obsession with the war is with all those stories. Not all bloody stories, either. Some are peace stories and others are love stories. Some are tragic and some are funny. “What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end” (Page 36) Bowker wishing his dad wasn’t so obsessed with medals. Kiowa and Kiley doing a rain dance. Azar strapping Lavender’s puppy to an antipersonnel mine and detonating it. Looking over the dead body of a Viet Cong you’ve just killed with a grenade. These stories remain even after the meaning fades away.

Notes

This chapter is composed a story fragments strung together with little or no analysis. The stories are what have stayed with O’Brien while everything else gets sucked down the whirlpool of memory. He seems fascinated with the process of remembering events, what endures and what gets left behind. The memories of the participants shape the ways that those of us who have never seen the war will view it.

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