Task 3: The Man He Killed

In the chapter entitled “The Man I Killed,” O’Brien goes into great detail describing the physical appearance of the man he may or may not have killed, as well as the life Tim imagines the man leaves behind.

Think about why O’Brien describes in such minute detail the man’s appearance, both the damaged and undamaged parts. Also consider Tim’s and Azar’s and Kiowa’s responses to the incident.

Then examine the experience of killing in war by looking at O’Brien’s work as well as that of another writer, Erich Maria Remarque. Like O’Brien, Remarque was a soldier. Remarque served in the German army during World War I, and his novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, recounts the experience of German soldiers going through the war.

Read the excerpt from Remarque’s novel by clicking the link below. In it, the main character fatally wounds a man who has jumped into his trench during a bombardment. 

All Quiet on the Western Front EXCERPT


What does it mean to kill during war?  After reviewing O’Brien’s and Remarque’s writing, answer the following:

  • What similarities do you see in the reactions of the speaker in each text?
  • How do Tim and the narrator in All Quiet both fixate on the effects of the killing?
  • How does each narrator relate to the man he kills?
  • Do the narrators try to distance themselves in any way? How?
  • What overall conclusions can you draw about killing in war?

Back to The Things They Carried Synthesis Activity Options