Chapter 22, The Lives of the Dead Notes from The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien
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The Things They Carried Chapter 22, The Lives of the Dead

Tim believes that stories can save living people, and bring dead people back to life. He's still dreaming about all the now-dead people he's known throughout his life. He remembers the body of a Vietnamese man, the only body they can find after they destroy an entire village. This happened when Tim had only been in the war for four days, and he was not ready for what happened: the other men in his platoon all shook the man's hand, talking to him as if he was alive. They let their sense of humor protect them from what had happened. Tim couldn't do it, even though Dave Jensen kept pushing him to. Later, Kiowa came to him and told him that he was right not to shake the man's hand. Tim argued that it wasn't brave to stand up to the other men: it was cowardice in the face of death. He avoided the dead man because he was afraid of him. He was reminded of his first date.

Tim and Linda were both nine years old. They were in love. "It had all the shadings and complexities of mature adult love, and maybe more, because there were not yet words for it, and because it was not yet fixed to comparisons or chronologies or the ways by which adults measure such things. I just loved her." Chapter 22, pg. 228 They somehow arranged to go on a date. His parents took them to a movie. She was wearing a strange cap, like one of Santa's elves might wear, and when he commented on it, trying to be nice, his mother gave him a severe look that surprised him.

Telling a story about someone brings them back to life. The men did this with Ted Lavender. After he died they talked to him and answered for him. It almost makes him seem alive--something that happened with Linda, too, after she died.

That night, they went to see The Man Who Never Was. It is a movie about British soldiers who find a dead body, put fake documents in his pockets, and throw his body into the ocean. His body washes up on a German beach, Nazis find the documents and, thinking they are real, use them to decide their strategies. The British are able to anticipate what the Germans will do next, thus winning the war. Tim was enthralled and horrified by the dead body. After the movie, they went to Dairy Queen, then his parents drove her home and he walked her to the door. He doesn't remember anything they said, but he knows they were in love. At school, Linda wore the strange cap every day. One boy kept threatening to pull it off her. Tim wished he could do something, but he wasn't brave enough. "I should've stepped in; fourth grade is no excuse. Besides, it doesn't get easier with time, and twelve years later, when Vietnam presented much harder choices, some practice at being brave might've helped." Chapter 22, pg. 234 In any case, he wished he could have stopped what happened next. The boy continued to bother Linda, and one day in class, he pulled the cap off. Linda was bald except for a few tufts of hair. She had stitches and a Band-Aid on her head. Everyone was silent, still, and shocked. Linda looked at Tim. "It lasted only a moment, but I had the feeling that a whole conversation was happening between us. Well? She was saying, and I was saying, Sure, okay." Chapter 22, pg. 235 Later, Linda cried, and Tim and the other boy walked her home.

Today, Tim is forty-three, but he knows he is the same person he was when he was nine. He looks at photographs of himself and he recognizes his own eyes. "And as a writer now, I want to save Linda's life. Not her body--her life." Chapter 22, pg. 236 Linda had a brain tumor, and she died a few months after their first date. Tim didn't believe she would really die, even though his mother told him she would. Then he heard from the other boy that Linda was dead. Tim went home by himself, lay on his bed, and tried to will her back to life. He saw her in a dream, and began to cry. She told him not be sad that she is dead--it doesn't matter. Tim knows that all of this applies to Vietnam as well. The men taught themselves not to think of the people they saw as really dead. They told stories about them that were so vivid that the men almost came back to life. When Tim heard Linda was dead, he asked his father to take him to the funeral home. His father hesitated, but agreed. Tim was afraid, and when he saw Linda he couldn't believe it was really her. She was bloated, and she didn't look asleep. She looked dead. Tim remembers all the bodies he saw in Vietnam. Many of them were horrifying and disgusting. When he was a boy, he made up dreams about Linda. She said amazing things, like, "Once you're alive, you can't ever be dead." Chapter 22, pg. 244 He went to bed earlier and earlier, wanting to see her again. He wrote stories about Linda, in which she explained what it was like to be dead--it isn't bad, or frightening, or really even worth talking about. He still does this, as a forty-three year old adult. He makes up stories about all the men who were his friends who are now dead, and he still writes about Linda too. His memory has faded, but that doesn't matter. His stories, no matter how they change her, keep her alive. "I'm skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story." Chapter 22, pg. 246

Topic Tracking: Truth 10
Topic Tracking: Bravery 10
Topic Tracking: Effects of War 10

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