The Yellow Birds


Kevin Powers

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The Yellow Birds Characters

John Bartle

Protagonist and narrator Private John Bartle is young and innocent when he is sent to fight in Iraq. Although he soon finds war cruel and difficult to endure, he succeeds in protecting himself from excessive… read analysis of John Bartle

Daniel “Murph” Murphy

Although eighteen-year-old Murph initially adopts the same attitude of strategic indifference as his war companion Bartle, he soon shows signs of greater sensitivity and psychological weakness in the face of violence. Instead of waiting… read analysis of Daniel “Murph” Murphy

Sergeant Sterling

Two qualities distinguish Sergeant Sterling from other soldiers: his bravery and his selflessness. Characterized by a willingness to sacrifice his entire being to military duty and the necessity of war, Sterling is also deeply devoted… read analysis of Sergeant Sterling

Bartle’s Mother

Characterized primarily by the fear and relief she feels in relation to her son’s time in Iraq, Bartle’s mother proves confused by her son’s psychological trauma after the war. Although she does not impose… read analysis of Bartle’s Mother

Ladonna Murphy (Murph’s Mother)

Although initially reassured to note that Murph and Bartle are becoming friends, Murph’s mother also proves deeply worried about her son’s fate in Iraq and forces Bartle to promise that he will protect Murph’s life… read analysis of Ladonna Murphy (Murph’s Mother)
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The Lieutenant (LT)

Present at all stages of Bartle’s time in Iraq, the lieutenant (or LT) gives the soldiers information about upcoming battles. Although he is probably not much older than Bartle himself, he has an air… read analysis of The Lieutenant (LT)

The German Bartender

The young bartender who works in the brothel that Sterling and Bartle visit shows fear of the Americans, because Sterling has attacked her viciously for no apparent reason, leaving her with a bruised eye. However… read analysis of The German Bartender


Bartle’s platoon’s translator, Malik, is highly skilled in English but demonstrates a lack of knowledge about military safety that ultimately gets him killed. Malik also highlights the emotional and cultural impact of war on… read analysis of Malik

The Doctor

The doctor that Murph observes every day in Iraq is a young woman capable of professional efficacy when tending to wounded soldiers, but also of kindness and compassion. She becomes an example of someone who… read analysis of The Doctor

The American Bartender

At the American airport where Bartle waits for his plane back home to Virginia, a bartender shows admiration for Bartle’s participation in the war and utter contempt for the Iraqis. His simplistic vision of the… read analysis of The American Bartender

The Colonel

Characterized by pride and arrogance, the colonel gives the soldiers a speech in which he seems more interested in glorifying the war and showing off for the news people and cameras than in honoring their… read analysis of The Colonel

Captain Anderson

The captain from the Criminal Investigation Division proves insensitive to Bartle’s current psychological state and condescending of any form of mental or physical weakness. According to Bartle, his cynicism about Bartle’s trial, which he… read analysis of Captain Anderson


In stark contrast to Bartle’s depressed mind state, Luke, Bartle’ best friend since middle school, shows youthful optimism and energy, organizing expeditions to the river with friends while Bartle feels unable to socialize. Like… read analysis of Luke

The Iraqi Man

The local inhabitant of Al Tafar gives the Americans information about Murph’s whereabouts and shows sincere surprise at the young man’s state, as he proves unable to understand why Murph would choose to walk… read analysis of The Iraqi Man

The Cartwright

A mysterious man who is surprisingly unperturbed by the presence of twenty armed American soldiers around him, the old cartwright gives Sterling and Bartle accurate information about where Murph’s body lies, suggesting that he… read analysis of The Cartwright
Minor Characters
Father Bernard
The priest in the German cathedral Bartle walks in is highly perceptive, as he immediately notices that Bartle looks troubled. Although he appears sincerely worried about Bartle’s well-being, Bartle also notices that his offers of help feel obligatory, moved by a sense of duty as much as personal concern.
The Major
Though the major gives a speech in which he congratulates the soldiers for their fighting, proving as uninteresting to the soldiers as the colonel’s speech had been, the major shows more concern for the soldiers’ individual actions and gives Sergeant Sterling a Bronze Star for valor.
Murph’s girlfriend, Marie, decides to break up with Murph while he is in Iraq, emphasizing the severance between Murph’s current life and his previous civilian identity.
The Interpreter
Playing an alternately aggressive or pacifying role, the interpreter helps the American soldiers try to find Murph, although Sterling does not seem to trust him and sends him away.