The Yellow Birds

by

Kevin Powers

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Daniel “Murph” Murphy Character Analysis

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 until after the war to analyze the moral validity of his actions, Murph becomes obsessed with the cruelty of war and his own part in it while still in Iraq. Unable to reconcile his moral principles with his current actions, he loses faith in his role as a soldier and longs to return to civilian life—even though he also begins to understand that war will affect him forever. Although Murph’s compassion and desire for human kindness makes him a noble, sensitive being, they prove ill adapted to the vicious world of war, and ultimately lead him to insanity and death.

Daniel “Murph” Murphy Quotes in The Yellow Birds

The The Yellow Birds quotes below are all either spoken by Daniel “Murph” Murphy or refer to Daniel “Murph” Murphy. 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:
War, Violence, and Detachment Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Little, Brown, and Company edition of The Yellow Birds published in 2012.
Chapter 1 Quotes

A yellow bird
With a yellow bill
Was perched upon
My windowsill

I lured him in
With a piece of bread
And then I smashed
His fucking head

Related Symbols: The Yellow Ribbon
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

There were no bullets with my name on them, or with Murph’s, for that matter. There were no bombs made just for us. Any of them would have killed us just as they’d killed the owners of those names. We didn’t have a time laid out for us, or a place. […] I believe unswervingly that when Murph was killed, the dirty knives that stabbed him were addressed “To whom it may concern.” Nothing made us special. Not living. Not dying.

Related Characters: John Bartle (speaker), Daniel “Murph” Murphy
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

We’d had small lives, populated by a longing for something more substantial than dirt roads and small dreams. So we’d come here, where life needed no elaboration and others would tell us who to be. When we finished our work we went to sleep, calm and free of regret.

Related Characters: John Bartle (speaker), Daniel “Murph” Murphy, Sergeant Sterling
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

I felt an obligation to remember him correctly, because all remembrances are assignations of significance, and no one else would ever know what happened to him, perhaps not even me. I haven’t made any progress, really. When I try to get it right, I can’t. When I try to put it out of my mind, it only comes faster and with more force. No peace. So what. I’ve earned it.

Related Characters: John Bartle (speaker), Daniel “Murph” Murphy
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

But things happened the way they happened without regard to our desire for them to have happened another way. Despite an age-old instinct to provide an explanation more complex than that, something with a level of profundity and depth which would seem commensurate with the confusion I felt, it really was that simple.

Related Characters: John Bartle (speaker), Daniel “Murph” Murphy
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

“I was really happy it wasn’t me. That’s crazy, right?”

“Naw. You know what’s crazy? Not thinking that shit.”

Related Characters: John Bartle (speaker), Daniel “Murph” Murphy (speaker)
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

It’s impossible to identify the cause of anything, and I began to see the war as a big joke, for how cruel it was, for how desperately I wanted to measure the particulars of Murph’s new, strange behavior and trace it back to one moment, to one cause, to one thing I would not be guilty of.

Related Characters: John Bartle (speaker), Daniel “Murph” Murphy
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

He wanted to choose. He wanted to want. He wanted to replace the dullness growing inside him with anything else. He wanted to decide what he would gather around his body, to refuse that which fell toward him by accident or chance and stayed in orbit like an accretion disk. He wanted to have one memory he’d made of his own volition to balance out the shattered remnants of everything he hadn’t asked for.

Related Characters: John Bartle (speaker), Daniel “Murph” Murphy, The Doctor
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

It probably wouldn’t matter what our level of culpability was. I was guilty of something, that much was certain, that much I could feel on a cellular level.

Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Yellow Birds LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Yellow Birds PDF

Daniel “Murph” Murphy Character Timeline in The Yellow Birds

The timeline below shows where the character Daniel “Murph” Murphy appears in The Yellow Birds. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: September 2004 – Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq
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...summer, killing thousands of people by September—soldiers and innocent civilians alike. Bartle and his friend Murph count the number of soldiers who have died, with the goal of avoiding becoming the... (full context)
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...in his life. In Al Tafar, after four days of crawling along rooftops, Bartle and Murph are now waiting, hidden, at dawn. Bartle looks down at the space that his fellow... (full context)
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...Sterling pour Tabasco on his eyes to stay awake, and feels comforted by his companion Murph’s steady breathing, which Bartle is now used to hearing by his side. After Bartle puts... (full context)
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...points to a place where an old woman used to plant hyacinths. Despite Bartle and Murph’s warnings that Malik should remain seated, Malik keeps on standing and, when shooting suddenly erupts,... (full context)
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After Malik’s death, Bartle and Murph decide that this death doesn’t count, and that they are still at nine hundred sixty-eight... (full context)
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...they thought, counting up to a thousand deaths does not protect anyone, and Bartle and Murph might be killed at any point. Bartle rejects the idea of destiny, noting that the... (full context)
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...He asks about the fires that he notices in nearby orchards, and tells Bartle and Murph to monitor them. When the lieutenant forgets what he was previously saying, Sterling, a sergeant,... (full context)
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...the old woman tries to get out of the car and is soon shot dead. Murph makes a surprised yet unemotional comment about this woman’s death, and Bartle notes that sleep... (full context)
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As Bartle watches the old woman bleed to death, Sterling gives Bartle and Murph pieces of dry pound cake. A small girl then moves toward the car and begins... (full context)
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...going to be sent on a new mission soon but feels comfort from knowing that Murph and he have survived this one. He wonders if he could have known at the... (full context)
Chapter 2: December 2003 – Fort Dix, New Jersey
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John Bartle describes writing a letter to Ladonna Murphy, Murph’s mother. Murph dies ten months after Bartle meets him for the first time, and... (full context)
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...no longer able to judge his own actions. Bartle then recalls his first meeting with Murph. Both of them were at Fort Dix, New Jersey, waiting to be sent to Iraq.... (full context)
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When Murph moves his belongings next to Bartle’s, the two of them chat. They discover that they... (full context)
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In the meantime, as the days go by, Bartle and Murph know that their departure date is approaching. When Sterling meets with the two asks them... (full context)
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...is inevitable that people are going to die. That night, when they are in bed, Murph asks Bartle if they are going to be okay. Bartle reassures him that they are,... (full context)
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...boys attend a safety briefing and practice marksmanship, impressing Sterling with their shooting skills. When Murph asks Sterling what Iraq is like, Sterling gives the two of them practical advice, telling... (full context)
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Bartle then meets Murph’s mom, who is glad to know that Bartle and Murph are becoming good friends. Although... (full context)
Chapter 3: March 2005 – Kaiserslautern, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
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...meaningless. When the priest insists, though, Bartle says he could pray for a friend, Daniel Murphy, who died in Iraq. Bartle then has a mental image of Murph’s body floating down... (full context)
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...Bartle considers walking in but has begun to feel uncomfortable in crowds and desperately wishes Murph were here. (full context)
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...laughs and says that he loves this freedom. Then, Sterling begins to make fun of Murph’s face when a female suicide bomber killed herself in front of the men. Sterling adds... (full context)
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...him in a menacing way that only the two of them know what happened to Murph, and that he could destroy Bartle, since in addition he is currently AWOL. Bartle replies... (full context)
Chapter 4: September 2004 – Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq
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In the meantime, Bartle watches as Murph takes off his helmet, retrieves a photograph from inside it, and reads his letter carefully.... (full context)
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...moment in Iraq, and that he has not lived in between. Much later, reflecting on Murph’s death, Bartle agrees with Murph that his separation from his girlfriend did not matter indeed. (full context)
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After Murph compares the sky they are under to the one his girlfriend must see, Bartle and... (full context)
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Thinking back on this scene, Bartle almost wishes that Murph had resisted more, shown a greater desire to fight for his life. When Murph puts... (full context)
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Bartle then discovers that some friends sent him a bottle of whisky and, laughing, Murph and he share the alcohol. The two of them then admire the stars and the... (full context)
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As the colonel is leaving, Bartle hears him ask the reporter how the photos look. Murph then asks Bartle if he thinks this is truly the most important thing they will... (full context)
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Sterling then prepares Murph and Bartle for battle, covering their shiny gear with tape that will hide any reflections... (full context)
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As the soldiers prepare to go into battle, Murph and Bartle notice Sterling throwing salt over the ground, smiling and muttering. When asked about... (full context)
Chapter 5: March 2005 – Richmond, Virginia
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...there. He then looks around the plane and counts the number of soldiers missing, including Murph, listing their ranks, and concluding that the number might be somewhere between twenty and thirty.... (full context)
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...vanish at any moment. Feeling tired, he lies in bed and falls asleep, dreaming of Murph and the war, as he does every night. (full context)
Chapter 6: September 2004 – Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq
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...lieutenant signals to move forward and Bartle concludes that he is only following orders because Murph, Sterling, the lieutenant, and all the others are doing the same, and the idea of... (full context)
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...making a big deal out of all of this. In the meantime, Bartle notices that Murph is kneeling in silence by the dead body. Bartle  does not want to feel responsible... (full context)
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A few hours later, when the soldiers are supposed to sleep, Murph and Bartle remain awake and Murph says that he cut the line earlier in front... (full context)
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...filled with explosives, might be used as a weapon. Sterling then calls on Bartle and Murph to make sure that the body no longer holds any explosives, and they tug at... (full context)
Chapter 7: August 2005 – Richmond, Virginia
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Unable to keep thinking about Murph, Bartle walks back to his mother’s house, puts some belongings in a duffel bag, and... (full context)
Chapter 8: October 2004 – Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq
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After the major leaves, Bartle realizes that Murph is nowhere to be seen. In the next few weeks, over the course of patrols... (full context)
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When Bartle talks to Sterling about his worries, Sterling laughs and tells him that Murph is going to die because he is already “home” mentally, whereas Bartle has succeeded in... (full context)
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...on cheap whiskey, Bartle wonders about what his dead body would look like and whether Murph would find him. In the meantime, the men patrol. Bartle finds that he does not... (full context)
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After finding Murph’s casualty feeder card and the picture he kept in his helmet, Bartle begins to follow... (full context)
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Murph greets him and, when Bartle asks him where he has been, replies that he has... (full context)
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While Bartle tries to soothe Murph, the doctor comes out of the tent, washes her hands, lights a cigarette, and begins... (full context)
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As the doctor walks toward the chapel, Bartle tries to reassure Murph that they can count on each other, although he later admits that he does not... (full context)
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...his way to the chapel, he sees that the doctor is now dead and that Murph is next to her, silent. While Bartle and another soldier cover the girl with a... (full context)
Chapter 9: November 2005 – Richmond, Virginia
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...knows that the C.I.D. will probably find him and punish him for what happened to Murph. Even though Bartle is not actually guilty of Murph’s death, he feels a generalized sense... (full context)
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...the entire army’s perspective. When the captain pulls out the letter that Bartle wrote Mrs. Murphy, Bartle concludes that he will accept whatever punishment he is given—for writing this letter, as... (full context)
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...wrong to write it. The captain then implies that they know Bartle is responsible for Murph’s death. Bartle says this isn’t true, but does not want to reveal his own version... (full context)
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...something with him, and he grabs the picture and casualty feeder card that were in Murph’s helmet. As the captain’s car drives Bartle away, they stop on a bridge, from which... (full context)
Chapter 10: October 2004 – Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq
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Bartle recalls the moment Murph disappeared, crying because of the doctor’s death. Although Murph did not attend the ceremony in... (full context)
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...makes Bartle wonder about potential dangers, such as being attacked or having to search for Murph for days. Suddenly, an Iraqi man emerges from a house, his arms raised, begging not... (full context)
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The Iraqi man pauses, confusedly asking the soldiers why Murph was naked, as though they knew the answer. He then pursues his story, explaining that... (full context)
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...local inhabitants run away with fear at their approach. The soldiers look for signs of Murph and find a puddle of blood down an alley. Following the bloody footprints, the men... (full context)
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...a tense, eerie atmosphere, Bartle and Sterling walk up to the minaret, where they find Murph’s dead body. Sterling comments that Murph must have been dead before falling, because of the... (full context)
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Pulling out Murph’s body from the vegetation, Bartle and Sterling see that Murph’s eyes have been gouged out,... (full context)
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Bartle asks what they should do, and Sterling swears, speaking to Murph directly, telling him he shouldn’t have died in this way. Sterling argues that they need... (full context)
Chapter 11: April 2005 – Fort Knox, Kentucky
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...been about nine hundred eighty-three or ninety days—a series of numbers that remind Bartle that Murph was not counted among the dead for a time. (full context)
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One day, Murph’s mother comes to visit Bartle in prison. Although the two of them are initially uncomfortable,... (full context)
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Mrs. Murphy explains that people soon tired of her desire to know why her son switched so... (full context)
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Although Bartle does not feel any sense of reconciliation from his meeting with Mrs. Murphy, he appreciates that she sincerely wants to understand what happened to Murph and why Bartle... (full context)
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...this period and feels that his loss is abating, as he gets older and feels Murph fading away. After leaving prison, he now lives in a small cabin by the Blue... (full context)
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In prison, Mrs. Murphy gave Bartle a map of Iraq, but after looking at it for a long time... (full context)
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...a cloth being taken off of a monument somewhere in the country. Then, he imagines Murph’s body, no longer disfigured. In his mind’s eye, he sees the body drifting down the... (full context)