What Does Kiowa Symbolize in “The Things They Carried”? A Deeper Look into Tim O’Brien’s iconic Novel

The kiowa, an indigenous tribe of the Great Plains, holds a significant place in American history. But in “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, this tribe also serves as a powerful symbol. Through the character Kiowa, a Native American soldier in the Vietnam War, O’Brien explores issues of identity, culture, and trauma. As readers follow Kiowa’s journey and his interactions with the other soldiers, we gain insight into the complex nature of war and its effects on both individuals and communities.

At its core, the kiowa in “The Things They Carried” represents the struggle to maintain a sense of self in the face of overwhelming adversity. This is particularly evident in Kiowa’s interactions with his fellow soldiers, who often view him as an outsider due to his cultural and racial background. Despite this, Kiowa maintains a deep connection to his heritage, frequently turning to his tribe’s traditions and rituals for solace and strength. In doing so, he provides a powerful example of the resilience and perseverance that is necessary to survive in times of crisis.

Overall, the kiowa symbolizes the ways in which our cultural and personal identities can serve as sources of both strength and conflict. While the Vietnam War may seem like a distant and removed historical event, the themes explored in “The Things They Carried” remain highly relevant today. Whether in the face of political upheaval or personal tragedy, we can all draw inspiration from Kiowa’s unwavering commitment to his beliefs and his willingness to connect with others despite their differences.

Kiowa’s Native American Cultural Background

Kiowa, a character in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, is a Native American soldier who fought in the Vietnam War. He comes from a Kiowa tribe that is originally from the Great Plains of North America and is known for their strong warrior culture. Traditionally, Kiowa people were hunters and gatherers who relied on buffalo and other resources for survival. They believed in the power of nature and respected it deeply.

The Kiowa tribe has a rich oral tradition and values storytelling as a means of passing down their history and cultural practices. They have a belief in the spiritual world and often use symbols and rituals to pay their respects to the spiritual realm. Symbolism is an integral part of the Kiowa culture and is often used in their clothing, jewelry, and other artifacts.

During the Vietnam War, Kiowa’s cultural background affected the way he approached combat and his interactions with his fellow soldiers. He carried with him a sacred feather that was given to him by his grandfather, which represented his connection to his culture and spirituality. He also often spoke in his native language, showing his pride in his heritage.

What Does Kiowa Symbolize in The Things They Carried

  • Kiowa symbolizes the importance of cultural identity and heritage.
  • He represents the struggle of Native American soldiers serving in a war that did not directly involve them.
  • His character serves as a reminder of the sacrifices and contributions of Native Americans throughout American history.

The Importance of Kiowa’s Symbolism

Kiowa’s symbolism in The Things They Carried highlights the complexity of the experiences of soldiers during the Vietnam War. His character represents the perspective of many Native American soldiers who served in the war and their struggles with their cultural identity and heritage. Additionally, Kiowa’s character serves as a reminder of the often-overlooked contributions of Native Americans in American history and adds a new layer of depth to the discussion of war and patriotism in America.

Symbol Meaning
Sacred feather Connection to culture and spirituality
Kiowa language Pride in heritage and cultural identity
Kiowa traditions and rituals Respect for nature and the spiritual world

Overall, Kiowa’s symbolism in The Things They Carried adds a layer of complexity and depth to the novel’s discussion of war and serves as a reminder of the often overlooked contributions of Native Americans in American history.

Kiowa’s Role in the Vietnam War

Kiowa was a Native American soldier who fought alongside the other members of Alpha Company during the Vietnam War. He was a vital part of the team, providing guidance and support during missions. Kiowa’s role in the Vietnam War is significant not only because of his abilities as a soldier but also because of his cultural background.

  • Kiowa represents the diversity within the American military during the Vietnam War. He was one of many Native American soldiers who fought alongside their fellow Americans.
  • Kiowa’s knowledge of the land and his ability to navigate through difficult terrain was invaluable during missions. He was also able to help the soldiers understand the culture of the Vietnamese people, which helped them connect with the local population.
  • Kiowa’s death represents the devastating effect the war had on soldiers, especially the loss of diverse cultural knowledge and history. His death left a deep impact on the members of Alpha Company, particularly on the story’s protagonist, Tim O’Brien, who struggles with guilt and grief over Kiowa’s death.

Kiowa’s character and contributions to the story emphasize the importance of diversity and cultural understanding in the military. His role in the Vietnam War highlights the critical role that knowledge and respect for other cultures play in military operations.

Here’s a quick reference table on Kiowa’s role in the Vietnam War:

Role Importance
Soldier Provided guidance and support during missions
Cultural liaison Helped soldiers understand the culture of the Vietnamese people
Diversity representation Represented the diverse backgrounds of soldiers in the Vietnam War
Symbol of the war’s impact His death represents the devastating effects of war and the loss of cultural knowledge and history

Kiowa’s character in The Things They Carried highlights the importance of recognizing the contributions of all soldiers, regardless of their cultural background. His death was a tragedy that serves as a reminder of the human cost of war.

Kiowa’s relationship with the main character, Tim O’Brien

Throughout The Things They Carried, Kiowa emerges as one of the most significant characters, and his relationship with Tim O’Brien is a crucial aspect of the novel. Below are three key subtopics that illustrate their relationship dynamic.

  • Kiowa’s role as a confidant: Tim O’Brien often relies on Kiowa as a sounding board to process his emotions and thoughts. This is evident when Kiowa consoles Tim after the death of his first love, Linda. Kiowa listens patiently and comforts Tim, forging a bond between the two that endures throughout the war.
  • Tension over Kiowa’s death: Kiowa’s unexpected death serves as a turning point in the novel. Tim’s feelings of guilt over Kiowa’s death and his inability to save him leave an emotional weight that follows him long after the war is over.
  • Depiction of Kiowa’s character: O’Brien’s portrayal of Kiowa in the novel casts him as an emblem of morality and decency. Kiowa is shown as unwaveringly principled, a trait that Tim admires. In contrast, Tim often feels morally adrift and unsure of his place in the world. Kiowa’s unwavering principles serve as a guidepost and an inspiration to Tim throughout the novel.


Overall, Kiowa’s relationship with Tim O’Brien serves as a powerful and moving element of The Things They Carried. As a confidant, a catalyst, and a moral compass, Kiowa plays a vital role in shaping the novel’s narrative and in helping Tim navigate the difficult moral and emotional terrain of the Vietnam War.

Pros Cons
Provides a moral guidepost for Tim. Kiowa’s death weighs heavily on Tim and the novel’s readers.
Offers emotional support and comfort to Tim throughout the war. Their relationship is cut short by Kiowa’s death, leaving Tim without his closest confidant.
Their relationship dynamic adds depth and complexity to the novel’s narrative.

The dynamics between Tim and Kiowa’s relationship drive the theme of the novel: stories and their protagonist shape the individual and community’s life. In summary, Tim O’Brien uses Kiowa’s character to highlight the importance of having a moral and emotional compass, creating one of the most poignant relationships in the book.

Kiowa’s Personality Traits and Characteristics

Kiowa, a Native American soldier in The Things They Carried, is a complex character with a unique set of personality traits and characteristics. Throughout the novel, Kiowa’s demeanor and actions symbolize various themes, including spirituality, courage, and the burden of guilt.

  • Spirituality: Kiowa is often depicted as being deeply spiritual and in touch with his Native American roots. He frequently carries a Bible and a hatchet, which represents his Christian faith and connection to his ancestry, respectively. This duality represents his ability to find balance between his indigenous heritage and the Westernized world he now inhabits.
  • Courage: As a medic, Kiowa is often seen risking his life to save others. He never backs down from danger and is always willing to put himself on the front lines to protect his fellow soldiers. His bravery represents the selflessness and honor found in the military and Native American cultures.
  • Introspection: Kiowa is deeply introspective and reflective, often thinking about the consequences of his actions and the nature of war. He is haunted by the death of his best friend, which leads him to doubt the morality of the Vietnam War and his participation in it.

One notable characteristic of Kiowa is his ability to remain calm and composed even in the face of danger. His stoicism becomes a source of comfort for his fellow soldiers, who trust him to provide stability and guidance during chaotic situations. Additionally, Kiowa’s respect for nature and the environment highlights his reverence for life and his commitment to preserve it.

Trait Description
Spirituality Deeply connected to his Native American roots and Christian faith
Courage Willing to risk his life for others and never backs down from danger
Introspection Reflective and haunted by the morality of war

In conclusion, Kiowa is a multifaceted character in The Things They Carried, symbolizing various themes and representing the complexities of the human experience. His personality traits and characteristics highlight the importance of spirituality, courage, and introspection in times of war and in life.

The significance of Kiowa’s death in the novel

Kiowa’s death in the novel has a significant impact on the other characters and the overall message of the book. Here are five key reasons why his death is so important:

  • Symbol of the Vietnam War: Kiowa’s death represents the harsh realities of the Vietnam War. His character, who was always so thoughtful and grounded, becomes a symbol of the many soldiers who were lost during the war.
  • The weight of guilt: Kiowa’s death has a profound effect on his best friend, Tim O’Brien. Throughout the novel, O’Brien deals with the weight of guilt from his time in Vietnam. The death of Kiowa is a catalyst for O’Brien to confront his emotions and come to terms with his experiences.
  • Humanity in war: Kiowa’s death also highlights the humanity that can still exist during war. When the soldiers take the time to give Kiowa a proper burial, it shows that even in the midst of violence and chaos, there can still be moments of compassion and connection.
  • Keeps the memory of the war alive: With Kiowa’s death, the memory of the Vietnam War is kept alive within the characters and the readers. Through his character, the novel reminds us of the tragic loss of life and the lasting impact the war had on those involved.
  • Importance of storytelling: Lastly, Kiowa’s death emphasizes the importance of storytelling. Through O’Brien’s retelling of Kiowa’s death and its impact, he is able to process his emotions and share his experiences with others. This highlights the power of storytelling and how it can help us cope with traumatic events.

Overall, Kiowa’s death in The Things They Carried holds a significant and multi-faceted role in the novel. It serves as a reminder of the horrors of war and the importance of human connection, whilst encouraging the power of storytelling in helping us to process our emotions.

Kiowa’s Possessions and Their Symbolic Meaning

Throughout The Things They Carried, author Tim O’Brien uses various possessions belonging to the soldiers as symbols to convey deeper meanings about their experiences during the Vietnam War. One of the most significant possessions belongs to Kiowa, a Native American soldier in the platoon.

Kiowa’s Possessions

  • The New Testament
  • Hatchet
  • Moccasins
  • Tomahawk
  • War bonnet
  • Moonlight

Six: The Number of Kiowa’s Death

Kiowa’s possessions are a reflection of his cultural identity as a member of the Kiowa tribe. The number six, mentioned repeatedly in the novel, is especially significant in Kiowa’s culture. It is the number of the directions on a compass, north, south, east, west, up, and down, as well as a number that holds great spiritual meaning. Six is believed to be a balanced number that represents harmony and equilibrium.

However, in the context of the novel, the number six takes on a darker meaning. Kiowa’s death is one of the most impactful events in the book, and it occurs in Chapter Six. This coincidence of the number six becomes a symbol for the senselessness of the war. The fact that Kiowa dies in muck, making his death all the more tragic, and that Norman Bowker blames himself for it, highlights the senselessness of the war and the suffering it caused.

Posession Meaning
The New Testament Represents Kiowa’s faith and serves as a symbol of hope during the darkness of war.
Hatchet Reflects the survivalist aspect of war and the need to be prepared for any situation.
Moccasins Represent Kiowa’s cultural identity and serve as a reminder of his traditional values.
Tomahawk Represents Kiowa’s warrior spirit and serves as a symbol of strength.
War bonnet Represents Kiowa’s connection to his heritage and serves as a symbol of pride and honor.
Moonlight Represents the beauty and mystery of nature, which Kiowa often finds comfort in.

Kiowa’s possessions represent not only his cultural identity and personal values but also the connection between the soldiers’ experiences and the larger context of the war. Even though Kiowa’s death is tragic, his possessions serve as symbols of hope, strength, and pride during a difficult time.

The Impact of Kiowa’s Death on the Other Soldiers

Throughout The Things They Carried, Kiowa is portrayed as a steady and calming influence on the other soldiers in the platoon. His death, which occurs in the chapter “Night Life,” has a profound impact on those who knew him. Here are some of the ways in which Kiowa’s death affected the other soldiers:

  • Guilt: The soldiers, particularly O’Brien, are wracked with guilt over Kiowa’s death. They feel responsible for not being able to save him, and for getting him into the situation in the first place.
  • Loss of a Friend: Kiowa was a friend to many of the soldiers in the platoon. His death leaves a void in their lives, and the soldiers struggle to come to terms with the fact that they will never see him again.
  • Doubt and Confusion: The soldiers are forced to confront their own mortality and the reality of the war. Kiowa’s death reminds them that they are all at risk, and that they may not make it out of the war alive.

These reactions are highlighted in the chapter “Night Life,” which describes the aftermath of Kiowa’s death. O’Brien, in particular, is deeply affected by the loss of his friend. He recounts his memories of Kiowa, and reflects on the impact that his death has had on him.

Overall, Kiowa’s death has a profound impact on the soldiers in the platoon. It serves as a reminder of the human cost of war, and forces the soldiers to confront their own mortality and the harsh realities of the conflict they are facing.

It is clear that Kiowa was a symbol of hope and stability for the other soldiers, and his death left a lasting impression on those who knew him.

Effects Examples from the Book
Guilt “We hadn’t saved Kiowa, but it was all we could do. None of it was our fault”
Loss of a Friend “I didn’t know what to do. Kiowa was gone. He was the best friend I had in the war.”
Doubt and Confusion “I felt suddenly cold, unsure, grateful to be alive, but a little lost and alone.”

The impact of Kiowa’s death is a powerful example of the toll that war can take on soldiers, and the ways in which it can affect them both mentally and emotionally. His legacy lives on in the memories of his fellow soldiers, and serves as a reminder of the human cost of conflict.

Kiowa’s Impact on the Theme of Guilt in the Novel

Kiowa, a Native American soldier, plays a significant role in the novel “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. The author uses Kiowa’s character to express the theme of guilt that runs throughout the book. Through his words and actions, Kiowa symbolizes the weight of guilt felt by soldiers during the Vietnam War.

  • Kiowa’s death
  • The death of Kiowa is a pivotal moment in the novel. His death serves as a constant reminder of the guilt felt by the soldiers for their actions during the war. It also highlights the senselessness of the war and the tolls it took on soldiers’ lives.

  • Kiowa’s Christian faith
  • Kiowa’s Christian faith is an important aspect of his character. His faith serves as a moral compass for him and helps him cope with the atrocities he witnesses during the war. It also highlights the inner conflict he faced as a soldier, fighting in a war that conflicted with his religious beliefs.

  • Kiowa’s role as a mediator
  • Throughout the novel, Kiowa is portrayed as a mediator between the soldiers. He tries to calm tensions and prevent conflicts, serving as a voice of reason. This role highlights his desire to avoid violence and the guilt that comes with it.

In addition to his character traits, Kiowa’s impact on the theme of guilt can also be seen in the items he carries. Kiowa carries an illustrated New Testament, moccasins that were a gift from his grandfather, and a hatchet. These items represent his spirituality, ancestry, and practicality, respectively.

Item Symbolism
Illustrated New Testament Kiowa’s Christian faith
Moccasins Connection to his Native American ancestry
Hatchet Practicality and ability to survive

Kiowa’s character and the items he carries symbolize the guilt felt by soldiers during the Vietnam War. His death serves as a constant reminder of the cost of war and the toll it takes on soldiers’ lives. Through his actions and words, Kiowa highlights the inner conflict faced by soldiers and the guilt that comes with fighting in a war.

Kiowa’s Perspective on the War and Its Morality

Kiowa is one of the characters in The Things They Carried, a novel by Tim O’Brien. He is a Native American soldier from Oklahoma who joined the U.S. Army and was sent to fight in the Vietnam War. Kiowa is one of the most respected members of the Alpha Company and serves as O’Brien’s moral compass in the novel. His perspective on the war and its morality is an essential theme in the book, and it provides readers with a unique insight into the complex issue of war.

  • Kiowa’s View on Killing: Kiowa is a deeply spiritual person, and he views killing as a grave sin. He believes that taking someone’s life is a significant violation of the natural order and that it has long-lasting consequences. Kiowa’s view on killing is in sharp contrast to that of other soldiers in the Alpha Company who view killing as a necessary part of war.
  • The Immorality of the War: Kiowa is one of the soldiers who questions the morality of the war and the U.S. Army’s role in Vietnam. He believes that the war is an unjust and immoral conflict that only serves the interests of the powerful elites who start wars. Kiowa’s perspective on the war highlights the theme of the dehumanizing effects of war, and it underscores the futility of war as a means of resolving political conflicts.
  • Kiowa’s Spirituality: Kiowa’s spirituality is based on his Native American culture, and it plays a vital role in his perspective on the war. He views the war as a conflict between two different worldviews, one that values unity, harmony, and peace (Native American culture), and another that values war, violence, and domination (Western culture). Kiowa’s spirituality provides him with a broader perspective on the war, and it helps him understand the deeper meaning of the conflict beyond its political and military dimensions.

Kiowa’s perspective on the war and its morality provides readers with a unique understanding of the Vietnam War and its impact on soldiers who fought in it. His character embodies the moral conflicts that soldiers face in war, and it underscores the importance of critical thinking and moral responsibility even in the most extreme situations. Kiowa’s legacy as a soldier and a spiritual leader serves as a reminder of the cost of war and the need for a more humane and peaceful world.

Kiowa’s Spirituality and Connection to Nature

Kiowa was a deeply spiritual character in “The Things They Carried.” He was a devout Baptist, yet he also held on to his traditional Native American beliefs. He saw spirituality as a way to connect with a higher power and to make sense of the world around him. Kiowa believed in the power of nature and saw it as a way to connect with the divine.

  • Kiowa believed that everything in nature was connected and that humans were a part of something greater than themselves. He believed that our actions affected the natural world and that we needed to be mindful of our impact.
  • Kiowa saw nature as a source of healing and renewal. When he was feeling overwhelmed or stressed, he would take walks in the forest or by the river. He found solace in the beauty of nature and saw it as a reminder of the majesty of life.
  • Kiowa used nature to communicate with the divine. He believed that the natural world was a reflection of God’s will. He saw the changing seasons, the movement of the tides, and the flight of birds as messages from a higher power.

Kiowa’s connection to nature also played a significant role in his role as a soldier. He saw himself as a protector of the natural world. He was horrified by the destruction caused by the war and saw it as a violation of the natural order. He was fiercely protective of his fellow soldiers, but he was also protective of the land they fought on.

Symbol Meaning
Trees Growth, renewal, connection to the earth
Water Purification, cleansing, renewal
Birds Freedom, spirit messengers, connection to the divine

Kiowa’s spirituality and connection to nature were integral parts of his character. They helped him make sense of the world around him and provided him with a sense of purpose. His reverence for nature also served as a reminder of the beauty and majesty of life, even in the midst of war.

FAQs: What does Kiowa Symbolize in The Things They Carried?

1. What is Kiowa’s significance in the novel?

Kiowa is a Native American soldier who symbolizes the spiritually centered aspect of war. He comes from a culture that values the land and nature and is portrayed as an empathetic and caring person who helps others deal with the trauma of war.

2. What role does Kiowa play in the story?

Kiowa’s presence in the story serves as a reminder of the moral and ethical implications of war. He is often seen as a moral compass to the other soldiers and provides a voice for the empathy and compassion that is often absent from war.

3. What does Kiowa’s death symbolize?

Kiowa’s death represents the loss of innocence and the devastating impact of war on the human spirit. It also serves as a reminder that even the most caring and spiritual soldiers are not immune from the horrors of war.

4. How does O’Brien use the character of Kiowa to explore his own experiences in Vietnam?

O’Brien uses Kiowa to explore the conflicting emotions he felt during his time in Vietnam. Kiowa’s character represents O’Brien’s own sense of spirituality and provides a way for him to process his own experiences.

5. How does Kiowa’s relationship with Norman Bowker reflect the theme of survivor’s guilt?

Kiowa’s relationship with Norman Bowker represents the guilt that many soldiers feel for having survived while their comrades have died. Kiowa provides emotional support to Bowker, who is struggling with his own guilt and trauma from the war.

6. What is significant about Kiowa’s moccasins?

Kiowa’s moccasins represent his cultural identity and connection to his Native American heritage. They also symbolize the cycle of life and death, as they are passed down from his grandfather to him and eventually lost in the muck of a sewage field.

7. How does Kiowa’s death impact the other characters?

Kiowa’s death has a profound impact on the other characters, particularly O’Brien, who feels guilty for not being able to save him. It also marks a turning point in the story, as the soldiers become even more disillusioned with the war and their own role in it.

Closing Thoughts: Thanks for Reading!

Thank you for taking the time to read about what Kiowa symbolizes in The Things They Carried. Through his character, we are reminded of the devastating impact of war on the human spirit and the importance of compassion and empathy in times of conflict. Please visit again soon for more insights and discussions about literature and the human experience.