The Things They Carried—”Church”: The Complete Chapter Guide

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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What happens in the chapter in The Things They Carried called “Church”? How does “Church” demonstrate how soldiers often view the role of luck in their lives?

We’ll look at the basic elements of this chapter of The Things They Carried, “Church,” and look at how two soldiers approach religion during battle.

The Things They Carried: “Church”

In this chapter of The Things They Carried, “Church,” O’Brien recalls another man in Alpha Company, Henry Dobbins, as being highly drawn to sentimentality. 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, in this chapter of The Things They Carried, “Church,” even the other men came to accept the pantyhose’s mysterious protective power, seeing how 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, he 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.”

One day, the company discovered a pagoda where they met two monks. This is the main event of this chapter of The Things They Carried, “Church.” 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. Among the men of Alpha Company, only one soldier, Kiowa, a Native American who carries his New Testament on his person at all times, shows any introspection. When death strikes the company, he is always the one who encourages his comrades to talk about their experiences rather than submerge them in acts of violence or displays of emotional cruelty. Seeing Cross’s despair, Kiowa wishes to himself that he could feel for Lavender as Cross does. But instead, all he can think about is the sound of Lavender’s body hitting the ground.

Still, the men camped out there for a week, as the monks waited on the soldiers. They took a special liking to Dobbins, 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 in The Things They Carried‘s “Church.”


In this chapter of The Things They Carried, “Church,” O’Brien recalls 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?”

The Things They Carried—”Church”: The Complete Chapter Guide

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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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