1. Of all of the burdens that the men have to carry to war, I find the most evocative to be the weights of memory and one another. They had lives before the war, and some will not live to the end of the conflict. Memories are a true burden. They’re the remainders of a tangible reality, a reality that the soldiers view as unattainable. The guys are young men who lust, love, party, and play, but they are stuck in a completely unwelcoming environment in which they must kill to survive. War isn’t pretty, but the soldiers need to carry the weight of what they remember in order to stay grounded in themselves. The weight of one another also keeps the soldiers in touch with reality and with each other. They all share fear, longing, and responsibility.
2. Jimmy loves Martha in the sense that she is an innocent figure, something that he lacks in the face of war. He is a young and immature leader, and he seems to love Martha more than he is concerned for his men. His romantic love is not reciprocated, but he constructs an elaborate, fictional relationship with her to fill the longing that he feels. She is a safe haven while he’s in Vietnam, and the idea of her gave him something to hope for upon his return. On a broader concept, she represents the hopes and dreams of the soldiers, unattainable and distant.
3. Many of the men are young and inexperienced, but they are forced to grow up and mature in war. Their use of humor and jokes about the war and killing, however, lightens up the mood of the violent environment that they’re stuck in. They were afraid of dying, but they were afraid to show it’ (page 19) conveys that joking around was their coping mechanism.
4. Jimmy, while still a young lieutenant, matures as he comes to terms with Ted Lavender’s death. He realizes that his love for Martha was not returned so he forces himself to push her away from his focus. He promises himself that he will be a better commander by taking charge and reminded himself that his obligation was to lead his men, not to be loved (page 25). By accepting the blame for Ted’s death and cementing his failed love, he exhibits stronger than ever the sense of duty. It may come as no surprise that he will forever feel guilty for causing the death since he was distracted.
5. Jimmy Cross never forgave himself for Ted’s death. His guilt was “something that would never go away” (page 26). His guilt transcends onto everyone who died, but his testimony of immense guilt stems from his mistake of being distracted by Martha. Readers can sense the pain that Cross carried.
6. Jimmy got a new picture of Martha playing volleyball (he burned the first copy in Vietnam) after he ran into her at a college reunion. After walking her to the dormitory, reminiscent of their earlier date, she explicitly relayed to him that she did not love him back. He accepted this fact when she handed him the photo the next morning. I think that this is a very solemn episode for Cross because he had to relive the rejection once again.
7. When Tim tells Jimmy that he’d like to write a story of the events, Jimmy asks Tim to depict him as a good guy, “brave and handsome…best platoon leader ever” (page 29). He is very critical of himself, but this request may have a playful and joking tone to it. The ending is ambiguous, though. Tim cuts Jimmy off before the sentence ends, so readers don’t exactly know what Cross’s long-kept secret is. I sense that it is his guilt of Lavender’s death because he has lived with it for so long.
8. When readers notice that O’Brien reveals character traits of Cross that Cross would prefer to have remain unknown, they can infer that the tell-all method is his means of coping. He uses storytelling to come to terms with the unspeakable horrors he encountered while in Vietnam. He does this to convey the fact that the soldiers were conflicted internally and externally and that the realities of war were grim.
9. The war was unlike a game of checkers because there were no rules observed in killing. The battlegrounds were ridden with obstacles and traps, the enemies were obscured, and the weapons were unfair. Checkers, on the other hand, is open on a ‘strict grid’ where either side is fully visible to the other. The score is explicit and strategies could be followed. This is the difference between order and chaos.
10.”Old Poppa-San” helped the platoon by serving as a guide through mine-ridden fields. He was able to gauge the surface tension of the land and skillfully navigate around mines and traps. This is remarkable because no one got hurt.
11.The peace and serenity came to an abrupt halt when O’Brien mentioned that Azar blew up the puppy that Ted Lavender adopted. He responded with “I’m just a boy” (page 35). This reflects the environment of war itself – young, immature, playful men (barely out of the age of boyhood) entrusted with lethal weapons and the responsibility to kill. The weight of things took on a playful atmosphere.
12.Not all of the stories of war were grim and unhappy The young boy who asked Azar for a chocolate bar shows the innocence of childhood against a backdrop of violence. Azar giving him the chocolate was sweet also! Ted Lavender’s indifference when he was high on tranquilizers was very mellow and added serenity to his constant worries. The soldier who went AWOL but then rejoined his unit to break up the peace adds a bit of humor when he said “it felt so good it hurt. I want to hurt it back” (page 34). Scenes of beauty and serenity often involve nature- Norman Bowker laying down to watch the stars, Kiowa’s rain dance demonstration, and the elephant grass bowing under the wind from the helicopter blades. The peace did not involve killing or suffering.
13.The book’s structure is comprised of sections that refer and overlap with each other. He jumps from the past to the present between chapters. The short sections are his insight in the present context. He repeatedly flashes back to include short anecdotes and stories, but he reflects on his current situation. This creates an emotional response from the reader, as we are able to relate to the path of memory. O’Brien doesn’t follow a linear chronological order, and uses the shorter sections to break up the longer flashbacks.
14.When Tim was at college, he was adamantly against the war. He did not understand why the US was involved in Vietnam, so he wrote editorials for the school newspaper and went door-to- door. He was moderate at most- he just did not support the war. His words and actions slowly build up to angst and numbness. He did not explicitly hate the war; he just did not want to accept it. This is understandable because he had his life laid out before him: “Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude and president of the student body.full ride scholarship for grad studies at Harvard” (page 39) shows that he is angry at the war.