“The Man I Killed”
War brings out the worst in people. Soldiers are often put in situations where they have to kill or be killed. In Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, the chapter, "The Man I Killed" describes the incredible guilt O'Brien carries with him after shooting a young Vietnamese soldier. Guilt allows Tim to feel something he has never felt before.
Guilt comes in many forms for different people. For O'Brien, he goes through several different phases after killing the young soldier. He first notices the physical destruction of the soldier because of his grenade. He describes his mutilated body in detail. "The star-shaped hole was red and yellow. The yellow part seemed to be getting whiter, spreading out at the center of the star. The upper lip and gum and teeth were gone. The man's head was cocked at a wrong angle, as if loose at the neck, and the neck was wet with blood," (Obrien, 120). O'brien is upset by what he has caused and what he is seeing from the dead body.
- In addition to feeling guilty about the physical damage he has caused, O'Brien also wonders about the life the boy led. He tries to imagine who he was, and what kind of loss the people he knew will experience because of his death. "His life was now a constellation of possibilities. So, yes, maybe a scholar. And for years, despite his family's poverty, the man I killed would be determined to continue his education in mathematics. The means for this were arranged, perhaps, through the village liberation cadrey, and in 1964 the young man begin attending classes at the University of Saigon, where he avoided politics and paid attention to problems in calculus," (122). Tim’s guilty conscious allows Tim to describe the boy’s life in great detail.
The guilt O'Brien describes is similar to what Jem feels in Harper Lee's To Killl A Mockingbird. At the end of the story, when Jem and his younger sister, Scout, are walking home from a school play, a man attacks Scout. Then he moves on the Jem. The grown man is literally fighting Jem who is a little boy. The old man knocks Jem out and goes to pursue Scout. But a man named Boo Radley She ends up getting hurt pretty badly, and Jem is filled with extreme guilt over not being able to help her.
Just like in the book The Things They Carried, Jem had not control over what happened to Scout. It was pitch black and he did all he could do, yet he carries a guilt for what happened to his little sister. Tim also carries a guilt for something that he had no control over. If he did not kill the boy, the boy would have killed him. He had to do what he had to do, realistically he did not have any control over that.