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Free Study Guide: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - Free BookNotes

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED: PLOT ANALYSIS / LITERARY CRITICISM

CHATPER 5: ENEMIES

Summary

On morning on patrol, Lee Strunk and Dave Jensen got in a fight. Jensen claimed Strunk had stolen his jackknife. Jensen, the bigger of the two, kept hitting Strunk until his nose was broken and he had to be choppered back to a medical tent in the rear. But in Vietnam, a feud didn’t end with a fight because people carried guns.

Later, when Strunk returned to the unit, the silent tension between he and Jensen made the entire platoon nervous. Afraid of retaliation, Jensen dug his foxhole as far as possible from Strunk, and made sure they didn’t sent on any assignments together. After a while, Jensen began to feel like he was fighting a war on two fronts. There were enemies in front of him and enemies behind. He didn’t know who he could trust. Eventually, he broke under the strain, borrowed a pistol and used it to break his own nose. Then he crossed the perimeter to Strunk’s foxhole and asked if they were square. Strunk said ‘sure’.


The next morning, Strunk laughs about how he really did steal Jensen’s jackknife.

Notes

This chapter highlights the crucial aspects of camaraderie. In a war like Vietnam, the enemy is always hidden and death comes suddenly from a mine or ambush. In the midst of all this, you rely on your fellow soldiers for survival. The possibility of being ambushed member of his own unit, in addition to the existing hazards of war, drove Jensen over the edge.

As with most chapters, O’Brien adds a final insight to the story in the form of a quote from one of the soldiers. Ironically, Strunk admits he really did steal the jackknife, implying he had never really considered retaliating.


CHAPTER 6: Friends

Summary

After that incident, Strunk and Jensen slowly become friends. They drew up a pact, stating that if one of them ever received a ‘wheelchair wound’, the other guy would put him out of his misery. Not long after that, Lee Strunk stepped on a rigged mortar round, which blew off his right leg at the knee. As the medics bandaged him up, Strunk pleads with Jensen not to kill him. Jensen assured Strunk he wouldn’t, and the helicopter headed off for the medical unit. Jensen felt relieved, however, when he heard that Strunk had died before reaching the hospital.

Notes

In a complete reversal of the previous chapter, Strunk is now terrified of Jensen, afraid he will follow through on their pact. Jensen’s relief upon hearing news of Strunk’s death is evidence of a peculiar sense of duty. Instead of feeling sorrow over a comrade’s death, Jensen agonizes over his own failure to carry out his promise. Perhaps he didn’t feel that he had acted like a ‘true’ friend by allowing Strunk to bleed to death in a chopper, instead of ending it all quickly.


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