Study Guide

The Things They Carried Spin

By Tim O'Brien


  • O'Brien starts the chapter off by telling us that the war "wasn't all about terror and violence" and then launches into a number of very short stories that then show the sweetness in the war.
  • A little boy with one leg asks Azar for chocolate, and Azar gives him some. Aww.
  • Lest we think that Azar is in any way a good person for more than a second, Azar then says that the boy's one leg showed how much war sucks, because it means that "some poor f***er [soldier] ran out of ammo" (Spin.1). Trust us, you'll hate him even more later.
  • Mitchell Sanders spends an hour picking off his body lice, puts them in an envelope, and sends them to his draft board back in Ohio.
  • O'Brien compares the war to a Ping Pong ball, saying that you could put a spin on it and make it dance.
  • Norman Bowker and Henry Dobbins have a ritual checkers game every evening, one that the rest of the men often gather around to watch. There is order in checkers, two clear armies, rules. It's restful.
  • O'Brien sits at his typewriter, now forty-three years old, and remembers Kiowa dying in a field of excrement (yeah, like sewage) and Curt Lemon dead in a tree. And while he's remembering it, he can't help but relive it. But that wasn't the whole war.
  • Back in Vietnam, Ted Lavender takes too many tranquilizers, he says that the war is nice and mellow.
  • An old Vietnamese guy leads them through the mine fields in the Batangan Peninsula. He knows exactly where the safe spaces are, and where you definitely do not want to step.
  • Rat Kiley makes up a rhyme: "Step out of line, hit a mine; follow the dink, you're in the pink" (Spin.8). The men fall in love with the old man, and when the choppers came to take the soldiers away, everyone is sad (including the old man).
  • The war is about waiting as much as it is about humping. It is boredom (a nerve-wracking boredom, but boredom nonetheless) interspersed with seriously gut-wrenching terror.
  • O'Brien feels guilty for still writing war stories. Kathleen, his daughter, tells him it's an obsession.
  • O'Brien agrees that maybe he should forget, but that "the thing about remembering is that you don't forget" (Spin.13). His real obsession is not the war, but the stories.
  • He tells a peace story. A guy—unnamed—goes AWOL and has a great time. But he ends up returning to his unit, telling his buddies that the peace "felt so good it hurt. I want to hurt it back" (Spin.16).
  • Mitchell Sanders told O'Brien that story, and even though it's probably made up, O'Brien still feels that it's true.
  • He says that sometimes in a battle, even at the height of chaos, looking up at the fluffy clouds in the blue sky could make you feel amazingly at peace.
  • He says that the memories that stick out the most are the fragments of stories:
  • Norman Bowker whispers to O'Brien that he wishes his dad didn't care if he (Bowker) wins any medals.
  • Kiowa teaches Rat Kiley and Dave Jensen to do a rain dance. Kiley is predictably disappointed when no rain ensues.
  • Ted Lavender adopts a puppy, and then Azar straps it to a mine and blows it up. (See? We told you that you were going to hate Azar.)
  • The men in the platoon are about nineteen or twenty years old, to which O'Brien attributes Azar's pranks. Azar, naturally, has no idea why everybody is so angry with him for killing the puppy. He says he's just a boy.
  • O'Brien also remembers the smell of an empty body bag; the moon rising over the paddies; Henry Dobbins sewing on his sergeant stripes and singing; grass bending when a helicopter lands on it; a slim, dead, dainty young man of about twenty killed on a red clay trail outside the village of My Khe; and Kiowa trying to get him to talk about it.
  • He says that stories are for joining the past to the future, and making sure memories last forever.