Henry Dobbins (The Things They Carried) + His Lucky Pantyhose

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Henry Dobbins in The Things They Carried? What are the defining moments for his character?

Henry Dobbins is a soldier in Alpha Company, a unit of the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War, in The Things They Carried. Henry Dobbins is a sentimental man who carries his girlfriend’s pantyhose, tied around his neck.

We’ll cover the most important scenes involving Henry Dobbins in The Things They Carried.

Henry Dobbins in The Things They Carried: Soldier Jesus

Author O’Brien recalls a man in Alpha Company, Henry Dobbins in The Things They Carried, as being highly drawn to sentimentality. Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck, but not out of a sexual predilection. For Dobbins, the pantyhose were a talisman, a good-luck charm, something that made him feel protected. Like Cross’s pebble from Martha, they were a link to a world away from the war.

O’Brien observes how powerful a hold superstition exerted on all the men in circumstances where life and death seemed to hang so precariously and randomly in the balance. Thus, even the other men came to accept the pantyhose’s mysterious protective power, seeing how Henry Dobbins seemed to glide through the mayhem of war without so much as a scratch. Once, he stepped on a landmine that, miraculously, failed to explode. Another time, Henry Dobbins in The Things They Carried was trapped in a gunfire battle with no cover, but simply slipped the pantyhose over his nose and somehow came out unscathed. Even after his girlfriend broke up with him, Dobbins believed that the pantyhose retained their power. “No sweat,” O’Brien recalls him saying, “The magic doesn’t go away.”

Henry Dobbins (The Things They Carried) & the Monk

One day, the company discovered a pagoda where they met two monks. The deeply religious and (atypically for Alpha Company) scrupulous Kiowa was uneasy about going in, believing that it was sacrilegious for the men to enter such a holy place. Still, the men camped out there for a week, as the monks waited on the soldiers. They took a special liking to Henry Dobbins in The Things They Carried, dubbing him “Soldier Jesus.” The serenity of the place and the kindness of the monks even inspired Dobbins to consider leading a spiritual life after the war.


O’Brien recalls Henry Dobbins as being more drawn to the idea of being nice to people as a minister rather than grappling with any weighty theological considerations, remembering Dobbins saying, “All you can do is be nice. Treat them decent, you know?”

Henry Dobbins (The Things They Carried) + His Lucky Pantyhose

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Things They Carried summary:

  • What the Vietnam War was like for soldiers on the ground
  • How Vietnam soldiers dealth with the psychological stress of death around them
  • How fictional stories can be truer than the truth
Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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