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The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried


by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried Notes Summary

  • Norman Bowker asks Tim to write "Speaking of Courage," and then hangs himself three years later.
  • In 1975, Bowker writes Tim a seventeen-page letter where he explains how he can't seem to adjust back to life in America after the war.
  • He tells Tim that he still feels like he's back in the field with Kiowa. He suggests that Tim should write a story about the field, and a guy who feels like he's still stuck there, even when he's driving around his hometown.
  • When Tim gets the letter, he feels guilty about his own easy transition from war to peace. While he doesn't think of his storytelling as therapy, it has actually been a way of navigating his memories in a healthy way.
  • Tim tries to write the story as part of his novel Going After Cacciato. He introduces the lake, changes the scenery, changes Norman's name (as he'd requested). He has to take out the sewage field and Kiowa's death to fit in with the rest of the novel.
  • Eventually, he publishes it as a separate short story, and sends it to Norman Bowker. Norman Bowker says it's fine, but he left out Vietnam, Kiowa, and the sewage in the field.
  • He hangs himself eight months later.
  • Ten years later, Tim rewrites the story. He puts Norman back in it, and the night in the sewage field, and the death of Kiowa. But he wants to make it very clear that in real life, it wasn't Norman who let Kiowa go. It was Tim.

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