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The Things They Carried


The Things They Carried Cover

ISBN13: 9780767902892
ISBN10: 0767902890
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Why is the first story, "The Things They Carried," written in third person? How does this serve to introduce the rest of the novel? What effect did it have on your experience of the novel when O'Brien switched to first person, and you realized the narrator was one of the soldiers?

2. In the list of all the things the soldiers carried, what item was most surprising? Which item did you find most evocative of the war? Which items stay with you?

3. In "On The Rainy River," we learn the 21-year-old O'Brien's theory of courage: "Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down. It was a comforting theory." What might the 43-year-old O'Brien's theory of courage be? Were you surprised when he described his entry into the Vietnam War as an act of cowardice? Do you agree that a person could enter a war as an act of cowardice?

4. What is the role of shame in the lives of these soldiers? Does it drive them to acts of heroism, or stupidity? Or both? What is the relationship between shame and courage, according to O'Brien?

5. Often, in the course of his stories, O'Brien tells us beforehand whether or not the story will have a happy or tragic ending. Why might he do so? How does it affect your attitude towards the narrator?

6. According to O'Brien, how do you tell a true war story? What does he mean when he says that true war stories are never about war? What does he mean when he writes of one story, "That's a true story that never happened"?

7. In "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," what transforms Mary Anne into a predatory killer? Does it matter that Mary Anne is a woman? How so? What does the story tell us about the nature of the Vietnam War?

8. The story Rat tells in "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" is highly fantastical. Does its lack of believability make it any less compelling? Do you believe it? Does it fit O'Brien's criteria for a true war story?

9. Aside from "The Things They Carried," "Speaking of Courage" is the only other story written in third person. Why are these stories set apart in this manner? What does the author achieve by doing so?

10. What is the effect of "Notes," in which O'Brien explains the story behind "Speaking Of Courage"? Does your appreciation of the story change when you learn which parts are "true" and which are the author's invention?

11. In "In The Field," O'Brien writes, "When a man died, there had to be blame." What does this mandate do to the men of O'Brien's company? Are they justified in thinking themselves at fault? How do they cope with their own feelings of culpability?

12. In "Good Form," O'Brien casts doubt on the veracity of the entire novel. Why does he do so? Does it make you more or less interested in the novel? Does it increase or decrease your understanding? What is the difference between "happening-truth" and "story-truth?"

13. On the copyright page of the novel appears the following: "This is a work of fiction. Except for a few details regarding the author's own life, all the incidents, names, and characters are imaginary." How does this statement affect your reading of the novel?

14. Does your opinion of O'Brien change throughout the course of the novel? How so? How do you feel about his actions in "The Ghost Soldiers"?

15. "The Ghost Soldiers" is one of the only stories of The Things They Carried in which we don't know the ending in advance. Why might O'Brien want this story to be particularly suspenseful?

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Average customer rating based on 11 comments:

GreatFish, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by GreatFish)
It took me nearly two months to have the mental and emotional power to pick up another book after reading The Things They Carried. I tried. I even tried over and over to read other Tim O'Brien books. But I was overcome by the poetry, the grandeur, the skill, the power of this book. I didn't want to read anything else. It penetrated deeply into a place in my spirit. For a while I worried I'd never read another book again.

I didn't go to Vietnam. I wasn't even alive at the time. Many people have written on the subject. Movies have been made. None of them have made me really understand what happened there. I'm sure my knowledge of what happened is still minute. But Mr. O'Brien made me feel. The emotion in his stories touched me deeply. They moved me. I'd say this book even changed me. It's a wonder and a tragedy that human beings pass through the things they do. Tim O'Brien helped me feel for a couple hundred pages the humor, the pain, the guilt, the agony, the shame of Vietnam. The stories weave together to create one singing piece of beautiful and painful poetry. It's gorgeous. This is very high on my list of best books I've ever read.
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(7 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)
Richard Bauer, January 31, 2012 (view all comments by Richard Bauer)
This is a collection of stories about Vietnam. It was a painful read. There was a
wonderful part where he wrote about a guy who just graduated from college and got
drafted. He had a couple months before he had to report for duty. O'Brien did a
great job of articulating the bewildering emotions of that guy as his time
approached. I related because I got drafted and went nuts trying to get out of it.
Reading this book brought back how slow time passed and how pissed off and outraged
I felt. It also underscored how anti-war mainstream American society was at that

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(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
NTN, March 5, 2011 (view all comments by NTN)
I just finish reading this book in my Junior English 3 class. At first we read it, it was boring but as the story goes on it starts getting better. This book contains many short stories about the author going to war. Hope you guys enjoy this book if you guys get a chance to read it.
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(4 of 13 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

O'Brien, Tim
New York :
Vietnamese conflict, 1961-1975
Psychological fiction
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 -- Fiction.
Vietnamese Conflict, 19
War & Military
General Fiction
Edition Description:
1st Broadway Books trade paperback ed.
Series Volume:
no. 11
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.91 x 5.25 x .7 in .5 lb

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The Things They Carried Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.50 In Stock
Product details 272 pages Broadway Books - English 9780767902892 Reviews:
"Review" by , "I've got to make you read this book....In a world filled too often with numbness, or shifting values, these stories shine in a strange and opposite direction, moving against the flow, illuminating life's wonder."
"Review" by , "The Things They Carried is more than 'another' book about Vietnam....It is a master stroke of form and imagery....The Things They Carried is about life, about men who [fight] and die, about buddies, and about a lost innocence that might be recaptured through the memory of stories. O'Brien tells us these stories because he must. He tells them as they have never been told before."
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