The Things They Carried Chapter 16, Notes
Norman Bowker suggested that Tim write the previous chapter. He hanged himself three years later. Norman wrote Tim a letter explaining how hard it was to find anything worthwhile to do after the war--jobs and school and even friends all seemed irrelevant. He wrote, "That night when Kiowa got wasted, I sort of sank down into the sewage with him" Chapter 16, pg. 156. Norman asked Tim to write a story about what happened to him the night Kiowa died. Tim is surprised by Norman's letter--he had always felt he himself had adjusted well to life after the war. But Norman's letter makes him realize that his writing has helped him work through a lot of ideas and memories that would have otherwise destroyed him. He is writing a novel, and he fits parts of Norman's story into it. But he has to change many of the details so they make sense with the plot of his novel, and later he realizes his story has failed. Still, he forgets the story's flaws and sends a copy of it to Norman, thinking he will like it. Norman doesn't see it as his story: there's no Kiowa, and no stinking field. Eight months later Norman hung himself. A decade later, Tim has written the story as it appears in the previous chapter of this book. He uses Norman's real name, and tells his real story, except Norman never abandoned Kiowa in the field. That part is Tim's.