Page Number and Citation: The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance. O'Brien tries to jump into the water, but can't. He keeps repeating this, and urges O'Brien to stop staring at the corpse of the man he killed.
Then O'Brien imagines the life story of this man and imagines that he was a scholar who felt an obligation to defend his village. Azar comments to O'Brien about the dead soldier and is sent away by Kiowa, who senses that O'Brien is upset. Kiowa tells O'Brien to stop staring at the body and offers justifications for what has happened.
O'Brien continues to imagine that the man he killed was devoted to his studies, that he wrote poems, and that he fell in love with his classmate. O'Brien sees that the man's fingernails and hair are clean and guesses that he has been a soldier for only one day.
Later Kiowa tells O'Brien that he is looking better; even later he tells O'Brien that he should talk about it, and again tries to get the disturbed O'Brien to talk.
O'Brien's daughter, Kathleen, asked him when she was nine years old if he had ever killed anyone. He told her no, but hopes that she will ask again as an adult. Again, O'Brien describes the Viet Cong soldier and tells how he saw him approach through the morning fog.
He recalls being terrified, and that his action was automatic, not political and not personal. He believes, too, that if he had not thrown the grenade, the Vietnamese soldier would have passed by without incident.
Analysis The central theme of this vignette is time. The one word that best describes the mood of this vignette is shock. Kiowa is more sympathetic, offering textbook comments, such as switching places with the dead man and that he would have been killed anyway, in order to console "O'Brien" whom he believes regrets his action.
The fact is that "O'Brien" never expresses what he is feeling — joy, regret, pain, confusion, or any specific emotion. He never says a word throughout the story.
His shock is all that we can really know, expressed through his silence. Much of this vignette is full of the personal history of the Vietnamese soldier, beginning with his birthplace, moving through his career, love life, and eventual enlisting in the army.
It also details some of his hopes and ambitions. O'Brien uses this history to make the dead man more realistic — the audience cannot simply dismiss him as a body or an enemy, but must think of him as a man.
This is yet another way O'Brien makes the Vietnam War more personal than historical or political. On the other hand, the history of the dead Vietnamese soldier is fictional. We know that there is no way that "O'Brien" could know all that he thinks, or even most of it.
O'Brien is again playing with the notion of truth: The personal history makes the soldier truer to us, more of a real person, but none of what "O'Brien" expresses is necessarily fact. The truth of the fallen soldier is left up to the reader. We can decide whether we feel for this man or want to think of him only as a fallen enemy.
The main image in this story is the star-shaped wound. It is repeated several times throughout the vignette. The star might symbolize hope, like a wishing star, but O'Brien has inverted its meaning by tying it in with death. It is surely no coincidence that the star-shaped wound is on the soldier's eye, for it is with the eyes that men both gaze upon the stars and see the approaching enemy.
The Vietnamese soldier obviously did not see the danger he was in; perhaps he was gazing more upon the stars, upon his future, than on his present situation. In this case, the stars betrayed him, and he has no future. In this story, O'Brien changes the meaning of looking to the future and the hopefulness of the star through his use of this image.
The "Ambush" vignette collapses all time between the experience of "O'Brien" in Vietnam and O'Brien the author telling a story. There are three distinct points of time referred to in the vignette: For the author, though, any perspective that he now has is lost in the telling of the tale, and the confusion and fear that he felt as a soldier then is intimately entangled with the regret and embarrassment he now feels through reflection.
He is as unsure now as then, and even though he acted more out of instinct when he lobbed the grenade and insists that he did not ponder "morality or politics or military duty," his reevaluation now forces O'Brien to reckon his action against those gauges.
This story, perhaps more vividly than most of the novel, puts us in the mind and body of "O'Brien" the soldier. We see through his eyes and share his thoughts. Much of what O'Brien describes is formulaic, such as not feeling hate, acting on instinct, feelings of regret afterwards, and moral confusion that lingers.The lesson that comes with this assessment, The Things They Carried, 'The Man I Killed': Chapter 12 Summary, will help you improve your understanding of: Tim's back story for the man he killed.
The Things They Carried The Man I Killed Summary.
BACK; NEXT ; There's a slim, dead, almost dainty young man lying on the ground. His jaw is in his throat, and O'Brien was the one to kill him.
He wears a wedding band on his long, delicate fingers. “The Man I Killed” He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. (See Important Quotations Explained). Summary “The Man I Killed” begins with a list of physical attributes and possible characteristics of the man whom O’Brien killed with a grenade in My Khe.
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In The Things They Carried, protagonist "Tim O'Brien," a writer and Vietnam War veteran, works through his memories of his war . A summary of “The Man I Killed” in Tim O’Brien's The Things They Carried.
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Notes and Quotes from "The Man I Killed" and "Ambush" from Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried".