The Things They Carried

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The Man O'Brien Killed Symbol Analysis

The Man O'Brien Killed Symbol Icon
The young man that Tim O'Brien killed on a trail outside of My Khe is a recurring symbol throughout The Things They Carried, as O'Brien struggles to deal with being responsible for the death of another human being. The young man becomes a symbol of the meaninglessness of the categories of enemy or ally after death has taken you, as well as a symbol of O'Brien as a dead soldier. O'Brien consistently draws parallels between the young, dead man and himself—though the parallels are all conjecture. O'Brien speculates that the man was a scholar who disagreed with the war, but only fought to make his family and town proud—which is a fairly good description of O'Brien.
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The Man O'Brien Killed Symbol Timeline in The Things They Carried

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Man O'Brien Killed appears in The Things They Carried. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
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...to normal when the chopper went away. A trail outside My Khe, a hand grenade, a dead young man , Kiowa telling O'Brien he had no choice. (full context)
On the Rainy River
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...his family, Linda, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, his wife, his unborn daughter, his two sons, and the young man he killed outside My Khe. O'Brien tries to jump into the water, but can't. In his vision... (full context)
The Man I Killed
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The story begins with a description of the dead man : jaw in his throat, one eye shot the other forming a star-shaped hole, thin... (full context)
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...done. He keeps repeating this, and urges O'Brien to stop staring at the corpse of the man he killed. Kiowa asks O'Brien if he'd prefer to be in the dead man's shoes.... (full context)
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O'Brien describes the man 's face again, repeats the same details: the undamaged nose, the frail figure. He notes... (full context)
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...maybe he doesn't know. O'Brien keeps staring at the body and describes the wounds on the dead man 's corpse, he notes a gold ring on his right hand. Kiowa tells O'Brien again... (full context)
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...he's sorry, then asks O'Brien to talk about it. He keeps asking O'Brien to talk. The young dead man was about twenty, and he lay with a leg beneath him, his jaw in his... (full context)
Ambush
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The young man was short, thin, and frail—about twenty years old. O'Brien was afraid of the man, and... (full context)
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...of him. The sun began to rise and the trail became more visible. He saw the young man emerge out of the morning fog, wearing all black and sandals, and carrying a weapon.... (full context)
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...He ducked down and held his breath. He claims he didn't hear it land, but the young man must have because he tried to make a run for it. The sound of the... (full context)
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O'Brien notes his life wasn't in immediate danger. It's likely the young man would have just kept walking. "And it will always be that way." (full context)
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O'Brien remembers Kiowa trying to console him by saying that the young man would have died regardless, told O'Brien it was a "good kill." Kiowa said it was... (full context)
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...about it. Occasionally, though, when he's reading a newspaper or sitting alone he will see the young man again. He will step out from the fog in the morning and O'Brien will see... (full context)
Good Form
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...reader about why the book was written. Twenty years ago near My Khe he saw a young man die on a trail, but he didn't kill him. His presence was enough to make... (full context)
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The story-truth: the young, dead man was slim and around the age of twenty. He died in the center of the... (full context)