Mary Anne Bell

Mary Anne Bell is one of the many complicated characters in The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. She has a variety of characteristics, though three true traits are evident. Bell is deceptive, never really showing her true colours: tampering, constantly restless and snooping. Mary Anne Bell is also very autonomous and a natural leader. Through careful evaluation of these aspects it can be revealed who she was intended to be and who she really was.


Deceptive ways can be used to make the statement “Things are not always as they appear,” true. Mary Anne Bell embodies this deceptive trait in her brief, yet crucial, presence in the book. Bell uses her assumed innocence to her advantage to deceive the men in the compound, and escape into the wild.

“Seventeen years old. Just a child, blond and innocent, but then weren’t they all? The next morning she was gone. The six Greenies were gone, too.” (100)

What she does, leads us to believe she is deceptive. Bell takes advantage of, and meddles with, people to hide what she is seeking.

Mary Anne Bell is a curious, tampering soul in a land of mystery. Most are afraid and shocked by the reality of war, but Mary Anne asks questions and roams the grounds as if it were a museum. She is not sad or mad, but curious. There is a sense of disappointment among the men; after all,  she is a female, supposedly timid and weak. Why does she not faint at gory stories and run to bed at sunset?

“She was curious about things. During her first days in-country she liked to roam around the compound asking questions.” (91)

Her level of curiosity became abnormally high and should have been a red flag to the men. We know this because, later in the novel, her dangerous line of questioning leads to her disappearance. This is completely against her child-like qualities previously mentioned.

“The war intrigued her. The land, too, and the mystery.” (91)

She was not scared or upset by the war, but interested and yearning to be a part of it. This again is noteworthy, making her intentions clear. Yet again, the men ignore the signs.  Maybe they knew and just chose not to believe it, or enjoyed the change of pace? Through the questions she asks, and her exploration of the compound, the reader gains insight into her character. Bell’s character shows us her independence and natural leadership skills.

Bell is a natural leader and becomes extremely independent and powerful. She goes out on her own and takes over a tribe only to vanish into the deep tundra of Vietnam.

“Ambush. All night long, man, Mary Anne’s out on fuckin’ ambush.” (97)

We can see through the example that Mary Anne Bell is autonomous through her taking action to become part of the Green Berets. Bell shows many traits through her short appearance as she demonstrated her leadership skills.

Mary Anne Bell was a breath of fresh air to the men at the compound. She was the embodiment of their two worlds colliding: peace and solitude meet rage and wrath. There is much to learn from this book, and to see how these social situations unfold. This novel is a “must-read”. There is so much to dissect from the way each chapter can be read separately, and what they mean as a whole. It is now clear who Mary Anne Bell was and who she became. Tim O’Brien used Bell as a lesson, and to turn on our senses to what was happening in the book. ‘Things are not always as they seem.’

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