The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried Questions Ch. 21-22

Chapter 21: “Night Life”

How did Rat Kiley get out of active duty in the Vietnam?

Consider the placement of this story in the novel. What is O’Brien’s purpose in including this story so late in 
the novel and immediately following “The Ghost Soldiers”?

Chapter 22: “The Lives of the Dead”

How does the opening paragraph frame the story we are about to read?

Why is O'Brien unable to joke around with the other soldiers? Why does the old man remind him of Linda?

What is the function of the Linda plot in “The Lives of the Dead”? Consider in particular what it teaches him 
about death, memory, storytelling.

What is the “moral” of the dead KIAs? Consider Mitchell Sanders' view.

In many ways, this book is as much about stories, or the necessity of stories, as it is about the Vietnam War. 
According to O’Brien, what do stories accomplish? Why does he continue to tell stories about the Vietnam 
War, about Linda?

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1) Kiley couldn’t take the strain of the war anymore, so he took drugs and shot himself in the foot.



4) O’Brien finds their humor grotesque and disturbing and retreats to his tent.

5) The central motif of The Things They Carried is death. Death reappears again and again, in the form of a young Vietnamese man and a fellow soldier. “The Lives of the Dead” finally explains what has formed O’Brien attitude toward death. This attitude is best characterized as visceral horror and intellectual disbelief. Instead of turning his disbelief into religion, or a belief in the afterlife, O’Brien seeks solace in his dreams. If he can dream Linda, is she really dead? When Linda dismisses that same question as irrelevant, O’Brien has his answer: as long as he imagines her, she is not dead.

Dreams and sleep are close cousins of death, as poets from Shakespeare on have observed. One goes to sleep not knowing what one will dream or when one will wake up. In the last story in this collection, O’Brien explores the image of transforming one into the other. O’Brien as a young boy is like an alchemist or a resurrector – he brings Linda back to life in his dreams. The older O’Brien is a storyteller. A storyteller is a sort of God, who gets to control the parameters of his fictional universe. In O’Brien’s fictional universe, Linda is still alive. Fiction is the most potent weapon in O’Brien's arsenal, with which he may fight against that perennial obsession: death itself.