Study Guide

The Things They Carried Notes

By Tim O'Brien


  • Norman Bowker asks O'Brien to write "Speaking of Courage," and then hangs himself three years later.
  • In 1975, Bowker writes O'Brien a seventeen-page letter where he explains how he can't seem to adjust back to life in America after the war.
  • He tells O'Brien that he still feels like he's back in the field with Kiowa. He suggests that O'Brien 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 O'Brien 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.
  • O'Brien tries to write the story as part of his novel Going After Cacciato. He introduces the lake, changes the scenery, changes Bowker'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, O'Brien rewrites the story. He puts Bowker 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 Bowker who let Kiowa go. It was O'Brien.