Kiowa in The Things They Carried

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

In ''The Things They Carried'' by Tim O'Brien, Kiowa, a Native American, is a member of Alpha Company who's complicated, and while we don't know a lot about him, what we do know gives us a tremendous amount of insight.

Meet Kiowa

Tim O'Brien takes us on a journey through the trials and horrors of the Vietnam War in his collection of stories in The Things They Carried. We are introduced to Kiowa, one of the men of Alpha Company. Kiowa brings the heart to the company with his kindness toward his fellow soldiers and his concern for the people of Vietnam.

Kiowa is a Native American, and he is without a doubt the character in the book who has the most of everything. He is decent, thoughtful, and kind. We like him. Kiowa is fully conscious of the idea he's in another land, and he believes the Vietnamese deserve his respect. He is strong, brave, and proud. We learn a lot about Kiowa in the book as we look at the things he carried, how he treated his fellow soldiers, and how he faced war. Even his death has a lot to teach us.

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  • 0:04 Meet Kiowa
  • 0:52 What He Carries
  • 1:28 He Brings Gentleness
  • 2:35 A Man of Substance
  • 3:08 His Death Clarifies
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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What He Carries

The things Kiowa carries are reflective of who he is, but in these things we can see the conflict. He is Native American, but he's also a serious and devout Baptist. He carries the New Testament in his pack as a reference to his Christian background; this is incongruous to his native heritage.

While many native tribes were converted by the missionaries, we see the apparent struggle because he also carries his grandfather's hunting hatchet. This is an important weapon in his culture, and he carries it so he'll feel the connection when he is so far from all that is familiar. He needs the connection to his ancestors the hatchet provides.

He Brings Gentleness

Kiowa brings a gentleness to the men of Alpha Company. He helps the soldiers in his platoon traverse the war by showing them that excessive violence is not necessary and is harmful to them. He is there to provide support when the war is more than they can handle. He offers each man what they need to put one foot in front of the other when the difficulties of fighting a war get to be too much.

When Tim kills a man, Kiowa tries to help ease his burden by shouldering some of the blame. ''I'll tell you the straight truth,'' he says. ''The guy was dead the second he stepped on the trail. Understand me? We all had him zeroed.'' He's trying to help O'Brien understand the entire platoon is responsible for his death, not just him. We are aware of Kiowa's kindness, his sense of what's right, surfacing for all to see. He didn't care what the others might say or think. He knew his friend was hurting, and he wanted to help.

Kiowa is gentle and often soft-spoken, quite the opposite from many of the soldiers in Alpha Company. He carries his moccasins so he can walk silently in the jungle. Where many of his fellow soldiers have been made angry and brutal in this hated war, Kiowa has been able to maintain his compassion.

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