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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 TWENTY-ONE (Night Life)

Summary

O’Brien wasn’t there when Rat Kiley got injured, but Sanders told him later that Rat had just lost his cool. There had been rumors of an NVA buildup, and so Lt. Cross ordered the platoon to only move at night for two weeks. The strain of sleeping during the day and wandering around in the dark all the night took its toll on Rat. At first he withdrew into himself, not talking to anybody. Then he talked non-stop about all sorts of weird things. He claimed there were bugs with mutant DNA that were personally after him. He couldn’t sleep during the hot daylight hours and he couldn’t cope with the nights. Finally he hit a wall. After all the gore that comes with being the medic, he lost control. He began imagining people as just a collection of organs, without skin. He’d stare at living people and wonder what they looked like dead. He imagined bugs munching holes through his flesh and mongooses knowing on his bones. One morning he doped himself up and put a round through his foot. Nobody blamed him, and Lt. Cross said he’d vouch that it was an accident.


Notes

In the first chapter much of the narrative centers around the idea of shame, and how shame prevented everyone from quitting, just dropping, or shooting one of their toes off. Aside from dying, it was the only way out of the war. No one would take it, however, because the suffering of combat was somehow preferable to the shame of taking the easy way out. In “Night Life” we have an example of someone, Rat Kiley, who takes the easy way out. The blackness, the eerie darkness, the ‘night life’ of Vietnam finally wears him down and he opts instead for the Night Life of Japan.

Rat’s decision has a dubious effect on the rest of the platoon. No one blames him, of course, partly because the idea has crossed most of their minds at one time or another. But they feel ‘bad’ about it, and that bad feeling is largely embarrassment - they’re embarrassed because one of their boys lost his cool and opted out of the war. In effect, Rat has turned his back on them and a new medic will take his place. None of them blame Rat for violating this code of camaraderie, but he has violated it all the same.

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