Chapter 20, The Ghost Soldiers Notes from The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien
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The Things They Carried Chapter 20, The Ghost Soldiers

Tim was shot twice. The first time was in the side, and Rat Kiley took care of him, telling him not to worry and checking on him several times, even though they were in the middle of a fight. When Tim is being taken by helicopter to the hospital, Rat nearly hugs him, which surprises Tim. The second time Tim is shot, there is a new medic in their group: Bobby Jorgenson. Tim is shot "in the butt," and Bobby is too afraid to crawl over to him and treat the wound. Tim almost dies of shock, and Bobby treats the wound badly, so that he almost gets gangrene as well. Tim wants to be able to be somewhat proud of getting shot, or at least be able to talk about it, but instead he has to lie on his stomach for a month, and he is made fun of in the hospital. He plots revenge against Bobby.

Topic Tracking: Bravery 8

After he is shot twice, Tim is transferred to a safer location. He no longer has to travel on foot. In some ways he misses it: he saw things very clearly when he was constantly afraid for his life. Still, he would have been okay about leaving combat if he hadn't had the constant pain from the second bullet. He dreams about hurting Bobby Jorgenson.

At one point, his platoon comes to his location. They greet each other warmly, and the men tell Tim stories. Tim feels separated from them, because he no longer faces the danger and filth of war with them. Everyone in the group is superstitious, and the men tell him about a man who used up all his luck. He went for a swim one day in a very dangerous area. Soon after, he got very sick and died. The men feel he wasted his luck on a stupid thing like swimming. Tim thinks about this, but he is more interested in where Bobby Jorgenson might be. Mitchell Sanders tells him to forget about it: Bobby made a mistake, but he's a much better medic now. He's part of the group. Tim realizes that he himself isn't. He feels betrayed. Soon after, he runs into Bobby, who is so uncomfortable around him that Tim almost feels sorry for him. Bobby tries to make peace with Tim, admitting that he made a mistake.

Tim doesn't want to let go of his anger, and he hates Bobby for making that happen. Vietnam has turned Tim into this, he says: he began as a thoughtful, moral person, and became a vengeful, hard, cruel one. He tries to get Mitchell Sanders to help him get revenge, but Mitchell calls him sick. Azar, however, is glad to help. Tim doesn't like him--nobody does. But Tim needs help to carry out his plan. They don't want to hurt Jorgenson--just scare him. This is easy to do in Vietnam, where everything seems ghostly--especially the enemy. Tim is still angry and wants to punish Jorgenson, but Mitchell won't speak to him, which makes him feel bad and not want to go through with it. The two feelings cancel each other out, so Tim follows the plan, but without enthusiasm. Azar, on the other hand, seems way too excited. Their plan is simple: Jorgenson is on night watch. They rig some ropes to cans filled with rifle cartridges. When they pull the ropes, the cans rattle, and Jorgenson thinks the enemy is nearby. Tim feels cruel--he knows how frightening this must be for Bobby. He feels like he is becoming Vietnam. Afterward, he and Azar listen to sentimental music. Tim knows he will never be a young innocent kid again. Azar doesn't get it. They go back to Jorgensen's post later, and set off quiet, bright flares. Bobby jumps and cries out. Tim knows that now Bobby knows how he felt when he got shot: his fear was so strong that he no longer felt human. "You're a shadow. You slip out of your own skin, like molting, shedding your own history and your own future, leaving behind everything you ever were or wanted or believed in." Chapter 20, pg. 211

Tim knows he has made his point, and tells Azar it's over. Azar seems to pity him in a condescending and cruel way, and tells him they have to finish the job. Tim knows Azar won't listen, but he begs him to stop anyway. Tim remembers how he felt when he was shot: it was like he didn't exist. He felt like he could speak, but the words wouldn't come out. He was sure he was going to die. Everything was in slow-motion and he kept focusing on very small details: a pebble, Jorgenson's shoes. He almost feels like that again as Azar continues with their plan. Azar throws a tear gas grenade. He lifts a white sandbag into the air with a pulley. Jorgenson, thinking it's the enemy, shoots at it. Then he realizes what is happening. He calls Tim's name. Azar is disappointed that the game is over, and thinks Tim is pathetic for chickening out. Jorgenson is not angry at Tim, and says they're even now. Tim is shaken by what he has done, but tries not to show it. He wants to kill Azar.

Topic Tracking: Effects of War 8

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