The Things They Carried
Guilt and Blame Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
This is why I keep writing war stories: He was a short, slender young man of about twenty. (Ambush.1-2)
While in this book, it's never wise to trust a statement as clear and as truthful as this one seems to be, we'll take it at its word for now. The guilt over killing the young man on the trail is what makes O'Brien write war stories. He gives the young man a history and a wife. He's trying to bring the young man back to life with stories.
"The truth," Norman Bowker would've said, "is I let the guy go." (Speaking of Courage.127)
This is the truth that Bowker can't talk about to anybody: he let Kiowa go. His seven other medals, everything else he's ever done? None of them count to him, because he let Kiowa drown in the sewage field. And it wasn't because he wasn't physically able to hold onto him; it was because of the smell. In our deepest, darkest moments, we can all imagine ourselves doing something like this. We pretend we would play the hero, but a secret, shameful part knows that maybe, just maybe, we couldn't. And Norman carries that guilt.
"Ten billion places we could've set up last night, the man picks a latrine." (In the Field.28)
Mitchell Sanders blames Jimmy Cross for Kiowa's death. The blame is not entirely without merit, but Sanders doesn't just blame Jimmy Cross because it's Jimmy Cross's fault (after all, as Norman Bowker points out, who knew it was a sewage field?). He blames Jimmy Cross because he needs someone to blame. He can't accept that Kiowa's death might just be meaningless and sad.