The Valpo Core Reader

Document Type

Life and Death Essay

Publication Date



We have a collection of stories, told in a roughly chronological order, with varying degrees of truth or accuracy. The morals to be taken from these stories are subject to interpretation. In these stories, there is a girl named Martha who is a dutiful server who ignores the greater scope of life, and a girl named Mary who gets to know the truth personally. What have I described in retrospect? I would imagine most people would immediately think of the bible and the gospel of Luke, and they would certainly be correct. But interestingly, this is not the only literary work that fits such a description. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried also features characters of the same names (albeit with a slight alteration; Mary Anne instead of Mary) with a similar literary structure. The gospel story seems to contradict itself in terms of its message, but it is commonly interpreted to be a message to find balance: be neither Martha nor Mary, but a combination of their better parts. But what makes O’Brien such a great author is that the crafted his stories so that they essentially contain the story and lesson of Martha and Mary, told with a different vehicle and with a different figure in place of the Lord.


Copyright © 2011 by Valparaiso University and the Author. Use with permission.