Study Guide

The Things They Carried Love

By Tim O'Brien


  • After the war is over, Jimmy Cross visits Tim O'Brien and the two reminisce over coffee.
  • Cross reveals that he never forgave himself for Ted Lavender's death, at which point O'Brien and Cross decide to switch from coffee to alcohol.
  • The mood lightens and around midnight, O'Brien feels comfortable enough to ask Cross about Martha. Cross is shocked that he even remembered who Martha was. He ends up showing O'Brien the same photograph that he carried of Martha when he was in Vietnam.
  • It turns out that after Cross burned the first one, Martha gave him a new one after running into him at a college reunion. Here's what happened:
  • Cross and Martha spend almost an entire day together. Martha hasn't married, and is now a Lutheran missionary who has done work in Ethiopia and Guatemala.
  • Even though they seemed to be getting along okay, Martha is still distant, and doesn't even respond when Cross tells her that he loves her.
  • At the end of the evening, he tell her about his fantasy—previously mentioned in "The Things They Carried"—about carrying her to the bed and tying her up so that he could hold her hand to his knee all night long. Yes, he actually tells her about that.
  • Unsurprisingly, Martha doesn't take this well, and simultaneously expresses disgust at "the things men do" and implies that she's either a lesbian or had been sexually assaulted in the past, or both.
  • Well, whatever she meant, Cross gets it, and the next morning, Martha apologizes and explains that "there was nothing she could do about it" (Love.5).
  • The two part on relatively good terms, with Martha giving Cross another copy of her picture.
  • Back in the present, Cross tells O'Brien that no matter what, he still loves Martha.
  • O'Brien asks Cross if he'd mind if he (O'Brien) wrote a story about it. Cross  thinks it over and says he wouldn't, that it might even make Martha fall in love with him after all. He asks O'Brien to make him look good, and not mention anything about ____ [blank].
  • And O'Brien says that he won't.