There are many stories that Tim O"Brien repeats in The Things They Carried, in order to suggest and emphasize their importance to the reader. The repetition of the story of the slim young man on the trail near My Khe carries with it various meanings and indications of why it is repeated throughout the novel. The most evident issue which the repetition of this particular story addresses is the fact that it is too painful to tell all at once. O"Brien breaks down this story and through the use of repetition emphasizes the emotional impact and effect that it has had. In addition, the recurrence of the story of the slim man on the trail near My Khe speaks of other reasons as to why the story is repeated. Another important role of the use of repetition in this story also suggests O"Brien's attempt to be more "truthful".
The main component which O"Brien chooses to repeat is his extremely descriptive portrayal of the slim young man, which begins in The Man I Killed. In particular O"Brien has chosen to focus on the repetition of disturbing images of the dead man's body and face, predominantly the eye, left cheek, and neck. .
"His jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star-shaped hole the skin at his left cheek was peeled back in three ragged strips, his right cheek was smooth and hairless, there was a butterfly on his chin, his neck was open to the spinal cord and the blood there was thick and shiny and it was this wound that had killed him." (124).
O"Brien can't seem to get his mind off the grotesque image of the young man. .
"The star-shaped hole was red and yellow. The yellow part seemed to be getting wider, spreading out at the center of the star. The upper lip and gum and teeth were gone. The man's head was cocked at a wrong angle, as if loose at the neck, and the neck was wet with blood." (126).
Even with the passing of some time, which is suggested in the passage, the image still has a effect on O"Brien.