The Yellow Birds

by

Kevin Powers

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Murph’s Photograph and Casualty Feeder Card Symbol Analysis

Murph’s Photograph and Casualty Feeder Card Symbol Icon

In his helmet, Murph keeps a photograph of his girlfriend and him, as well as a casualty feeder card that contains all the information necessary to identify his body if he dies. Throughout the course of the novel, these two objects represent Murph’s gradual detachment from life (culminating in his emotional breakdown and death), as well as Bartle’s attempt to come to terms with Murph’s death (culminating in the decision to let go of the past). Although Murph initially keeps the picture and the casualty feeder card in a Ziploc bag, revealing how much he cares about his home life and the protection of his own body, he later discards them, leaving them in a laundry bucket—an act that shows how disillusioned he has become with the war and that highlights his intention to die. When Bartle finds these objects, he decides to save them. However, after trying to keep Murph’s memory alive, Bartle ultimately throws the photograph and casualty feeder card in the river, revealing that he wants to feel free from the pain and guilt that Murph’s death evokes. Through their alternation of protection and abandonment, these objects thus reveal the evolution of Murph and Bartle’s relationship with memory, as each character initially wants to hold onto the past, before deciding—for various reasons—that they need to let it go. In making Murph and Bartle’s difficult relationships with the past and the future more visible, these concrete objects reflect the two characters’ potentially fatal struggles to remain sane without giving up on their essential identity as human beings.

Murph’s Photograph and Casualty Feeder Card Quotes in The Yellow Birds

The The Yellow Birds quotes below all refer to the symbol of Murph’s Photograph and Casualty Feeder Card. 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 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:
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:
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Murph’s Photograph and Casualty Feeder Card Symbol Timeline in The Yellow Birds

The timeline below shows where the symbol Murph’s Photograph and Casualty Feeder Card appears in The Yellow Birds. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: September 2004 – Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq
War, Violence, and Detachment Theme Icon
Companionship vs. Solitude Theme Icon
In the meantime, Bartle watches as Murph takes off his helmet, retrieves a photograph from inside it, and reads his letter carefully. When Bartle asks him if he has... (full context)
War, Violence, and Detachment Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
Companionship vs. Solitude Theme Icon
...by the horrors of the war. During this conversation, Bartle asks to look at Murph’s picture and see that it shows Murph and his girlfriend in a peaceful setting on a... (full context)
War, Violence, and Detachment Theme Icon
...resisted more, shown a greater desire to fight for his life. When Murph puts the picture back in his helmet, Bartle sees the card that all soldiers must fill out and... (full context)
Chapter 8: October 2004 – Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq
War, Violence, and Detachment Theme Icon
Companionship vs. Solitude Theme Icon
After finding Murph’s casualty feeder card and the picture he kept in his helmet, Bartle begins to follow Murph, searching desperately... (full context)
Chapter 9: November 2005 – Richmond, Virginia
War, Violence, and Detachment Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...handcuffs Bartle, Bartle asks if he can take 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... (full context)