The Things They Carried

O'brien feelings for young man he killed

Why do you think O'Brien spends so much time and text imagining a life for the young man he killed?

Asked by
Last updated by Aslan
Answers 1
Add Yours

When the story begins, O’Brien is standing in front of a man he just killed in My Khe. He repeats the same details about the man he killed, over and over again: one eye is a star-shaped hole; he lies face-up on the road; there are strips missing from his cheek; he has thin, arched eyebrows, like a woman; he is thin, with a concave chest, like a scholar. O’Brien is fixated on the details.

The Man I Killed” employs the narrative form of a confession. The very title is almost a confession; it is a very slight variation on “I killed a man.” The story is a form of self-flagellation: O’Brien forces himself to stare at the corpse as punishment. And writing a story about the man is a continuation and extension of staring-as-punishment.

The image of small blue flowers and a butterfly fluttering around the dead man’s mouth are ironic. Even with death and disaster, the physical beauty of Vietnam is inescapable. That beauty also serves to make the dead man’s mangled face seem more gruesome and unnatural. The writer pairs natural with unnatural and displays the contrast.

The story ends with a one-sided conversation: Kiowa trying to get O'Brien to talk and O’Brien remaining silent. This conversation illustrates the limits of friendship. No measure of companionship can make up for the stark reality of life and death, and the moral consequence of what O’Brien has done. O’Brien feels guilty, and his friends cannot console him.