Study Guide

The Things They Carried The Lives of the Dead

By Tim O'Brien

The Lives of the Dead

  • O'Brien says that stories can save us. Through the stories, O'Brien keeps Linda and Ted Lavender and Kiowa and Curt Lemon alive. (Don't worry, you're going to find out who Linda is later.)
  • When O'Brien has only been in Vietnam for four days, the platoon takes sniper fire from a village, so Jimmy Cross orders an air strike on the place. When they've completely destroyed it, they go in.
  • The only person there is an old man lying dead by a pigpen. The other guys go over and shake his hand, introducing themselves. Dave Jensen tries to get O'Brien to do the same, but he can't. It's too real for him, and he's scared.
  • Later, Kiowa tells him that he thought that was impressive. He wishes he'd had the guts to say no. He asks O'Brien if it was the first time he's seen a body, and O'Brien says that the body reminded him of his first date. (Um.)
  • Linda and Timmy are nine and in love. Timmy takes her out on his very first date. They go to a movie—with Timmy's parents, of course.
  • Timmy likes Linda's new red cap, and compliments her on it. She smiles, but his mother glares at him.
  • In Vietnam, when Ted Lavender dies, Mitchell Sanders asks the body how the war is going, and someone answers "mellow" in Lavender's voice. O'Brien says that stories animate bodies.
  • Timmy and Linda watch The Man Who Never Was for their first date. O'Brien can't stop thinking about one of the dead bodies in the movie. They go to Dairy Queen afterwards, then say goodnight to each other.
  • Linda keeps wearing her new cap to school. A kid named Nick Veenhof keeps teasing her about it. Timmy doesn't do anything about the teasing. One day, Nick pulls the cap off, and reveals to the entire class that Linda is almost bald. She has cancer.
  • She looks at Timmy, and Timmy nods. Timmy and Nick walk her home that day.
  • O'Brien uses stories to save Linda's life—to bring her back, however briefly.
  • Linda dies. Timmy tries to imagine what it's like to be dead, picturing Linda, trying to make her alive. He sees her in his mind, and he starts to cry. She tells him to stop crying—that it doesn't matter.
  • Back in Vietnam, the soldiers pretend that death isn't as awful as it is. They tell stories about the dead as if they're still alive, like Ted Lavender and Curt Lemon.
  • After Linda dies, Timmy gets his father to take him to see the body. When he looks at it, he doesn't recognize it as Linda.
  • One day, when O'Brien and Mitchell Sanders are assigned to pick up twenty-seven bloated, disgusting enemy bodies, death hits home. Mitchell Sanders tells O'Brien that death sucks, as if that's some great wisdom.
  • Timmy kept making up stories in which Linda was alive. She says things like "Once you're alive, you can't ever be dead," and "Do I look dead?" (113-4).
  • They go ice-skating in his dreams. Linda tells him that death is like being inside a book that nobody's reading.
  • In 1990, O'Brien is still dreaming of Linda being alive, along with Kiowa, and Ted Lavender, and Curt Lemon, and even himself, as Timmy.