Characters and Analysis
Tim O’Brien: Tim is both the narrator and the protagonist. He is a pacifist who repeatedly attempts to rationalize his participation in the war by concluding the his obligation to his family and commitment to his country were far greater influences than his own political beliefs.
After the war has ended, O’Brien uses his storytelling ability to share tales in order to grapple his own guilt and confusion about the horrors that he had witnessed during the Vietnam war, including the death of several of his fellow soldiers and his involvement in killing a man.
Jimmy Cross: Jimmy is the lieutenant of the Alpha Company. He has good intentions and is quite capable of leading the men, however, he lacks confidence in his abilities. He is consumed by guilt because he believes that his fantasies about his lost love, Martha, and his deep rooted tendency to follow orders led to the death of Ted Lavender and Kiowa.
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Mitchell Sanders: Mitchell is one of the most well liked soldiers in the Company, and was a strong influencer for O’Brien. He is described as being kind and devoted. He has a keen belief in justice. Given these qualities, it was only natural for him to assume the role of a father figure.
Kiowa: Kiowa was O’Brien’s closest friend and served as an example of rationality and morality on the backdrop of the horrors of war. Kiowa’s death, when the men mistakenly camp out in a sewage field, is the central point of three stories.
Norman Bowker: Norman is a man who embodies the very damage that a war can do to a man years after the war has ended. During the war, Bowker is depicted as being quiet and unassuming, however, the death of Kiowa has a profound effect on him. The note that he writes to O’Brien in “Notes” depicts the value of sharing stories in order to heal.
Henry Dobbins: Henry is the machine gunner of the platoon, and also the nicest guy in the bunch. His tremendous decency, and profound simplicity, contrast with this ‘gentle giant’ stature.
Curt Lemon: Curt is regarded as being childish and carless. His is killed after having stepped on a rigged mortar round. Even though O’Brien does not particularly care for Lemon, Lemon’s death is something that he continually thinks about with extreme sadness and regret. The fact that his death was completely preventable, and his irrational fears of life echo the immaturity of several young man who fought in the Vietnam war.
Ted Lavender: Ted was the first solider to die, he was young and terrified. He had no place in the war. Ted frequently battled his anxiety with sedatives and drugs. His death, similar to Lemon’s, was preventable. It demonstrates how expendable life is in war.
Lee Strunk: Lee is a soldier and a minor character in the novel. After a struggle with Dave Jensen, Strunk ends up with a broken nose. Strunk and Jensen made a pact that if either of them were to be gravely injured, the other would make certain that death came swiftly. However, when Strunk was fatally wounded, he begged Jensen to forget the pact.
Dave Jensen: Dave is so consumed by the guilt over injuring his friend that he breaks his own nose. Jensen is relieved to hear that his friend had passed away – not because his friend had died, but rather because he had broken a pact they had made and now the pact is obsolete.