Linda is an important symbol in the novel, representing the function of memory, love, and death. Timmy's fourth-grade sweetheart, Linda provides O'Brien with the idea of true love, a love as innocent as his Midwestern upbringing. On their date, they see a war movie, establishing a first connection between love and war. Added to this is the fact that O'Brien's story about Linda turns into the story of her death. The story of Linda sets up one of O'Brien's primary themes in the novel: the inextricable link between love and death. It is not that Timmy loves Linda and then she dies, rather that he loves her because she dies — love and death are the same. It is his love for Linda that allows an older "O'Brien" to go to war, and later to write about it. The whole novel, then, is about love and death, about Timmy and Linda.
Like Bowker, Linda gives O'Brien a reason to write. In his vision of her after her death, Linda tells O'Brien to "stop crying," that death "doesn't matter." Indeed, O'Brien uses writing to tell the story of Linda, to give her life again, or as he puts it, to "save Linda's life." Writing is creative; it counters the destruction of death and war. Bowker's need to have O'Brien tell his story is the same as O'Brien's need to remember Linda through writing, which is itself an act that sustains life by animating the dead.