The Things They Carried

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.

The Man O'Brien Killed Quotes in The Things They Carried

The The Things They Carried quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Man O'Brien Killed. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Houghton Mifflin edition of The Things They Carried published in 1990.
The Man I Killed Quotes

In the presence of his father and uncles, he pretended to look forward to doing his patriotic duty, which was also a privilege, but at night he prayed with his mother that the war might end soon. Beyond anything else, he was afraid of disgracing himself, and therefore his family and village. But all he could do, he thought, was wait and pray and try not to grow up too fast.

Related Characters: Tim O'Brien (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Man O'Brien Killed
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Ambush Quotes

I did not hate the young man; I did not see him as the enemy; I did not ponder issues of morality or politics or military duty. I crouched and kept my head low. I tried to swallow whatever was rising from my stomach, which tasted like lemonade, something fruity and sour. I was terrified. There were not thoughts about killing. The grenade was to make him go away—just evaporate—and I leaned back and felt my head go empty and then felt it fill up again. I had already thrown the grenade before telling myself to throw it.

Related Characters: Tim O'Brien (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Man O'Brien Killed
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

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Good Form Quotes

"Daddy, tell the truth," Kathleen can say, "did you ever kill anybody?" And I can say honestly, "Of course not." Or I can say, honestly, "Yes."

Related Characters: Tim O'Brien (speaker), Kathleen (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Man O'Brien Killed
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Lives of the Dead Quotes

But this is true too: stories can save us. I'm forty-three years old, and a writer now, and even still, right here, I keep dreaming Linda alive. And Ted Lavender, too, and Kiowa, and Curt Lemon, and a slim young man I killed, and an old man sprawled beside a pigpen, and several others whose bodies I once lifted and dumped into a truck. They're all dead. But in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.

Related Characters: Tim O'Brien (speaker), Kiowa, Ted Lavender, Curt Lemon, Linda
Related Symbols: The Man O'Brien Killed
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

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It was a kind of self-hypnosis. Partly willpower, partly faith, which is how stories arrive.

Related Characters: Tim O'Brien (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Man O'Brien Killed
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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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.
Spin
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Social Obligation Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Man I Killed
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Social Obligation Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
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)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Social Obligation Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
O'Brien describes the man 's face again, repeats the same details: the undamaged nose, the frail figure. He notes... (full context)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Social Obligation Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
The young man was short, thin, and frail—about twenty years old. O'Brien was afraid of the man, and... (full context)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
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)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
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)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
...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)
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Shame and Guilt Theme Icon
The story-truth: the young, dead man was slim and around the age of twenty. He died in the center of the... (full context)