Slink Harris has a very small role in this story, although he figures in other stories in The Things They Carried.
Dave Jensen is a minor character in this story, a fellow member of Tim’s platoon.
Ral Kiley is another member of Tim’s platoon. The story opens with Tim telling the story of how Rat wrote a letter to the sister of Curt Lemon, one of Ral’s buddies who was killed. The sister never writes back and Rat calls her a “dumb cooze.” A second story involving Rat concerns a “baby VC water buffalo.” The event occurs soon after Curl’s death. The platoon captures the buffalo and takes it with them. However, when il refuses to eat the food Rat offers it, Rat begins shooting the buffalo. The narrator attributes this action to Rat’s grief and anger over the death of his friend.
Kiowa is a Native American member of Tim’s platoon. His role in this story is limited to helping Dave Jensen throw what is left of the baby water buffalo in the village well. However, in other stories in The Things They Carried, Kiowa is a central figure.
Curt Lemon is a member of Tim’s platoon who dies. The story of his death is woven through this story and throughout the entire collection of stories that make up The Things They Carried. Curt and his friend Rat Kiley were playing with smoke grenades when Curt stepped on a rigged 105 mm. artillery round. Tim tells the story over and over, trying to describe Curl’s ascent into the trees. Curl’s role in the slory is as “Ihe dead guy.” His death offers an illustration of the difference between happening truth and seeming-truth. The happening-truth is, of course, thai he is killed in an explosion. The seeming-truth, however, is thai somehow the sunlight lifts him up trees.
Although the first person narrator of the story has the same name as the author (Ihe narralor is nol named in ihis slory; readers learn ihis information from other stories in O’Brien’s The Things They Carried), readers should not confuse the Iwo. The author has deliberately created a fictional persona to tell his story. Like the author, the narrator Tim is a white male writer in his mid-forties, recalling his time as a soldier in Vietnam. He alternates between commenting on the construction of “true” war stories and memories that illustrate his points. Indeed, Tim’s first words in the story are “This is Irue.” Tim serves as the chief storyteller in Ihe slory, although he reports on stories he has heard from his comrades. Repeatedly, however, Tim points out to the reader those characteristics lhal identify a war story as true. At the same lime, however, he also contradicts and changes his stories. Just as his opening words are “This is true,” he later tells the reader that “None of it happened. None of it.” Likewise, although he claims that this is a story about war stories, in the final paragraph he tells the reader, “
And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war.”
Another member of Tim’s platoon, Milchell Sanders, tells the story of a patrol that goes up into the mountains to spend a week listening for enemy movement. What they hear, however, is not enemy movements, but a whole host of other sounds, including a glee club, a Chinese opera, and a cocktail party. He swears that the episode is true. Later in the night he returns to tell Tim the moral of the story, although Tim has just told Ihe readers that a true war story has no moral. Even later in the night, Mitchell returns once again lo Tim lo tell him lhal he had to make up a few things in order to make the story true. Nevertheless, wilhin the story, Tim presents Milchell Sanders as a reliable narrator.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Tim O’Brien, Published by Gale, 2002.