The Things They Carried Book summary

Tim O'Brien




"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien is a gripping exploration of the Vietnam War through interconnected stories that reveal the physical and emotional burdens carried by soldiers. Blurring reality and imagination, O'Brien captures the complexities of human resilience and vulnerability amid the horrors of war. The book's unique narrative challenges truth and memory, inviting readers to question conventional war narratives and consider the lasting impact on the human psyche. A masterful portrayal of sacrifice, morality, and the profound effects of war, "The Things They Carried" holds a significant place in both literature and the understanding of the Vietnam War.


Plot Summary

The Things They Carried is a collection of 22 short stories about Tim O’Brien’s experience in the Vietnam War as a member of Alpha Company. Through the short stories, Tim O’Brien communicates the desperate conditions in Vietnam that the soldiers were required to contend with, and the effect it left on their minds. The writer explores the circumstances around the deaths of his colleagues, Ted Lavender, Curt Lemon, and Kiowa. Ted Lavender was shot dead while the company was deployed on a mission that involved destroying Tunnels. Jimmy Cross, the lieutenant responsible for the company, holds himself responsible for Ted Lavender’s death because he feels that he had been distracted during the mission by daydreams about his love interest. Curt Lemon accidentally stepped into a rigged booby trap while he was playing a game of tag with Rat Kiley under the shade of a tree. On the other hand, Kiowa dies buried in a field of human waste when the company accidentally sets up a camp on a village field that serves as a toilet for a Vietnamese village during the monsoon. Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, and a young soldier of the Company, all feel responsible for Kiowa’s death.

Through the other stories, Tim O’Brien explores how his colleagues have been faring since after the war. He speaks to Jimmy Cross, and Norman Bowker, after the war. He discusses how storytelling has allowed him to process the traumas he experienced during the war, chiefly the guilt of killing a man. He includes accounts of being wounded, and experiencing the desire for vengeance against a medic, who had failed to aid him quickly enough. Tim writes about honoring Kiowa’s memory by journeying to the place where he had died, and the relationship that they had shared as fellow soldiers. Finally, Tim talks about his understanding and relationship with death as he looks back on Linda, a girl he had liked in school, who had died due to sickness. He had learned how to bring her to life through his stories, and he finds that he still could access her through them. 

  • Author(s)

    Tim O'Brien
  • Publication date

    March 28, 1990

  • Language


  • Classification

    Historical Fiction

  • Pages



War, Vietnam War


Houghton Mifflin