Later, however, Jimmy cannot forgive himself for Lavender's death, and his own day-dreamy negligence that he knows had caused it. By now Cross has ordered his men to burn the area where Lavender died, and they have moved elsewhere. But none of that erases the images in Jimmy Cross's mind of Ted Lavender's corpse.
As O'Brien depicts the aftermath, during that same evening, of Ted Lavender's preventable death from Jimmy Cross's now-pathetic perspective:
while Kiowa explained how Lavender had died, Lieutenant Cross found himself trembling.
He tried not to cry.
He felt shame. He hated himself. He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war. ("The
Things They Carried," p. 279)
Later on, with Cross's men now having burned down the area in which Lavender has died, and then been marched by their lieutenant to a new location, the reality, for the clearly culpable First Lieutenant Cross himself, of the true cause of Lavender's death earlier that day - one he himself most likely could and should have prevented - sinks in even more painfully. That night, once Cross is again alone with his thoughts, and also can have the protective camouflage of darkness, Jimmy Cross:.".. sat at the bottom of his foxhole and wept. It went on for a long while" (O'Brien, "The Things They Carried," p. 279).
And today's events, further, have produced within Cross's tortured mind the realization of yet another most unhappy truth. As O'Brien further tells us, within this same scene:
In part, he was grieving for Ted Lavender, but mostly it was for Martha, and for himself, because she belonged to another world, which was not quite real, and because she was a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey, a poet and a virgin and uninvolved, and because he realized she did not love him and never would. (O'Brien)
Additionally, Cross's private torture tonight goes undetected by the men around him, and while this is, of course, the lieutenant's intention, the fact that it does so also underscores for the reader the essential aloneness with which each man, during a war, must face the consequences of others acts and also his own. For example, Cross's men do not notice their commanding officer's grief now; but they had noticed, earlier, exactly how things looked and sounded to them as Lavender was shot and then fell, dead and heavily, to the ground:
Like cement, Kiowa whispered in the dark. I swear to God - boom-down. Not word.
I've heard this, said Norman Bowker.
A pisser, you know? Still zipping himself up. Zapped while zipping [sic].
All right, fine. That's enough.
Yeah, but you had to see it, the guy just heard, man. Cement. So why not shut the ***** up? ("The Things They
In spite of it all, though, at the end of this story, at which the war simply continues on if the story itself does not, at least here:
Lieutenant Cross reminded himself that his obligation was not to be loved but to lead. He would dispense with love; it was not now a factor. And if anyone quarreled or complained, he would simply tighten his lips and arrange his shoulders in the correct command posture. He might give a curt little nod. Or he might not. He might just shrug and say Carry on... [emphasis added]
O'Brien, "The Things They Carried," pp. 283-284)
At the beginning of the story, O'Brien mentions various items, i.e., the "things" that the various characters carry along with them wherever they go: particular weapons; necessities for doing their individual jobs; little necessities like mosquito repellant; little luxuries like chewing gum, cigarettes, and candy. What is apparent at the end, though, is that in war a soldier's biggest burdens are in fact those with no physical weight at all. These include thoughts of home and loved ones there; the horrors and regrets of the recent past here; the fears of today; and unbridled anxieties about tomorrow.
O'Brien, Tim. "The Things They Carried." In Reading, Reacting, Writing, Compact Fifth Edition. Laurie G. Kirszner and Steven R. Mandell (Eds.). New York:…