Teacher Notes on The Things They Carried Use them as you read!!

Jimmy feels what the platoon cannot feel. Because he feels this pain, he sacrifices the memory of Martha and burns the letters and pictures

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Jimmy feels what the platoon cannot feel. Because he feels this pain, he sacrifices the memory of Martha and burns the letters and pictures.

What is the purpose of a savior motif?

There is something special about human beings. Human beings have the capacity to sacrifice themselves for others. Not all do it and many do just the opposite: some people make others suffer so that they can have better lives. But there is the ability of some people to make the lives of others more bearable, more worthwhile, more livable, even if those some people have to suffer and die for the others. Where does this desire to self-sacrifice come from? It can't be instinctual. It runs contrary to the survival instinct. Yet it happens all the time. Look at examples of real life from our text book. Roger Rosenblatt writes about the unnamed man who kept giving a lifeline to others though he must have felt that he was in trouble and needed the lifeline himself in "The Man in the Water" on page 471 in the Elements of Literature  textbook. In "R. M. S. Titanic," Hanson W. Baldwin describes the many instances of people who steadfastly stayed on the doomed ocean liner because "women and children" came first. There was the band which played continually though they must have known they were minutes from their own deaths. There was the captain, passengers, crew who were gallant at the time of their deaths so that others would not die in fear. What is it about humans that makes this possible?

Because this theme is such an important one, authors have been exploring it for millennia. The Greeks told the story of Prometheus who suffered ignominy and torture in order to bring the fire of enlightenment to humanity. Christianity had the story of Jesus Christ who died for the sins of humanity. Other cultures have their stories of self-sacrifice, each trying to explore the theme of what it is that a person would die for. The aim of these stories is really to discover what it is that a person has to live for and the  answer to what it is that we will live for is not discovered until we discover what it is that we would die for. To explore the savior motif in its many incarnations is to explore our own purpose in life. To that end, the understanding of this particular motif is most valuable.

Dynamic Character: Please notice that Jimmy Cross is a dynamic character in this story. By the end of the story, he has determined that he will forsake his feelings about Martha and will concentrate his attention on the company in his charge. He will shift his focus. He burns Martha's pictures and letters and he will dispose of the pebble. All these things he will do because he is a changed man.


In "Love" Tim O'Brien, the author, begins to play with you, the reader. After the war Jimmy Cross and Tim O'Brien, the narrator meet. The narrator is a writer which makes you think that he is the author, doesn't it? The narrator says, "I told him that I'd like to write a story about some of this." Now, you are reading a story that is about some of this, aren't you? Doesn't that seem as if it  must have been a real conversation between two real people? That is the author's trick. It must be real because you are reading about it. Now here is the purpose of the author's trick: If this conversation really happened between Jimmy Cross and Tim O'Brien, what is Cross referring to when he says, "Do me a favor. Don't mention anything about --"? Is Cross referring to something that is in the story and O'Brien betrayed him or is he referring to something that is not in the story and O'Brien was loyal to his war buddy? The point is, if you are at all curious, O'Brien, the author, has got you. He has manipulated you into thinking about and caring about two fictional characters.

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