The Things They Carried Review
The following questions are due on your blog by the end of class on Friday.
The Things They Carried Review
Chapter 1: “The Things They Carried”
1. In the list of all the things the soldiers carried, what item was most surprising? Which items stay with you?
2. In what sense does Jimmy love Martha? What does he get out of it?
3. Why do the soldiers tell jokes about the war, about killing?
4. How is the idea of weight used and developed in the story? How do you, as a reader, feel reading those lists of weight? What effect does it have on you?
Chapter 2: “Love”
5. What could Jimmy Cross never forgive himself for?
6. How did Jimmy get a new picture of Martha playing volleyball?
7. What does Jimmy ask Tim to do when he writes his story?
8. What does he tell Tim NOT to mention?
Chapter 3: “Spin”
9. What do we learn about Azar’s character in this story?
10. How was the war NOT like a game of checkers?
11. How did the “old poppa-san” help the platoon? What was his special skill?
12. What did Azar do to Ted Lavender’s puppy?
13. What does Azar say about his action?
14. According to Tim, what are stories for?
Chapter 4: “On the Rainy River”
15. How did Tim feel about the Vietnam War while he was at college? Do his actions and language support the idea that he “hated” the Vietnam war?
16. What does Tim say is Elroy Berdhal’s role in his life? What sort of person was Elroy? How did Tim know?
17. How do the opening sentences prepare you for the story?: “This is the one story I’ve never told before. Not to anyone.” What effect do they have on the reader?
18. Why does O’Brien relate his experience as a pig declotter? How does this information contribute to the story?
19. At the story’s close, O’Brien almost jumps ship to Canada, but doesn’t: “I did try. It just wasn’t possible.” What has O’Brien learned about himself, and how does he return home as a changed person?
20. In this chapter, 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?
Chapter 5: “Enemies”
21. Who broke whose nose?
22. What was the effect of the fight on Jensen?
23. What did Jensen finally do to resolve the conflict between them?
24. What is the irony of this chapter’s title?
Chapter 6: “Friends
25. What was the pact that Dave Jensen & Lee Strunk made together?
26. What was Lee afraid of when he saw Jensen, and what did he make him promise?
27. The phrase that inspires these two chapters is normally characterized as “friends and enemies.” Why does O’Brien (the author) reverse this traditional order when sequencing these chapters?
28. What is the irony of this chapter’s title?
Chapter 7: “How to Tell a True War Story”
29. 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? In what sense is a “true” war story actually true?
30. Why does this story begin with the line: “This is true.” How does that prepare you, as a reader, for the story? In what sense is “this” true?
31. Why is the baby water buffalo scene more disturbing than the death of one of O’Brien’s platoon members, Curt Lemon?
32. O’Brien explains that this story was “not a war story. It was a love story.” In what sense is this a “love story”? Why?
Chapter 8: “The Dentist”
33. Characterize Curt Lemon and why he behaves the way he does. How does this affect your reading of the previous chapter?
34. How did Curt Lemon’s visit to the dentist affect him?
Chapter 9: “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”
35. Describe the changes in Mary Anne Bell from the time she arrived in Vietnam to be with her boyfriend until the end of the chapter. Be specific and record moments from the text (page numbers and descriptions) that demonstrate how she changed.
36. Why do you think she changed? What did the change symbolize? How long did this change take?
37. Does it matter that Mary Anne is a woman? How so? What does the story tell us about the nature of the Vietnam War?
Chapter 10: “Stockings”
38. Why did Henry Dobbins continue to carry his girlfriend’s stocking even after she broke up with him?
Chapter 11: “Church”
39. What was Kiowa’s reaction to setting up camp in a pagoda? Why? How does this differ with Dobbin’s conception of faith/religion/spirituality?
40. What is the meaning of the washing motion of the younger monk? Is it the same when Dobbins does it?
41. The image of the monk cleaning an M-60 is strange and upsetting. What purpose does it serve in the story?
Chapter 12: “The Man I Killed”
42. How did the narrator react to the fact that he killed another human being? What evidence in the story leads you to this conclusion?
43. This story describes fairly intimate aspects of the dead man’s life. Where do these details come from? How can Tim O’Brien know them? What is going on here?
Chapter 13: “Ambush”
44. Tim O’Brien’s daughter, Kathleen, asks if he ever killed a man: “ ‘You keep writing these war stories,’ she said, ‘so I guess you must’ve killed somebody.’ “ Following this, O’Brien relates two possible scenarios of the death described in “The Man I Killed” to explain “This is why I keep writing war stories.” In your opinion, why does O’Brien keep writing war stories?
45. Where does truth reside in this book? What is the connection between O’Brien’s actual experiences and the events in this book? Why is O’Brien using lies to get at “the truth”?
Chapter 14: “Style”
46. What symbolism lies in the woman’s dance?
47. What does Dobbins means when he says “Dance right!”?
Chapter 15: “Speaking of Courage”
48. What narrative point of view is used in “Speaking of Courage”? What problems does Norman confront when he returns home? What seems to prevent him from dealing with them successfully?
49. Why is Norman unable to relate to anyone at home? More importantly, why doesn’t he even try?
Chapter 16: “Notes”
50. Why does O'Brien include Norman's letter in the story?
51. What does O'Brien say about storytelling in “Notes”?
Chapter 17: “In the Field”
52. Briefly summarize the plot and style of the story. Is this story more of a “true” war story than the account in the chapter “Speaking of Courage”?
Chapter 18: “Good Form”
53. In “Good Form,” O'Brien casts doubt on the truth of the entire novel. Why does he do so? Does it make you more or less interested in the novel?
Chapter 19: “Field Trip”
54. Why does O’Brien return to the field?
55. What is the point of putting Kiowa’s moccasins in the ground (burying them)?
Chapter 20: “The Ghost Soldiers”
56. 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”?
57. “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?
Chapter 21: “Night Life”
58. How did Rat Kiley get out of active duty in the Vietnam?
Chapter 22: “The Lives of the Dead”
59. How does the opening paragraph frame the story we are about to read?
60. Why is O'Brien unable to joke around with the other soldiers? Why does the old man remind him of Linda?
61. What is the “moral” of the dead KIAs? Consider Mitchell Sanders' view.
62. In many ways, this book is as much about stories, or the necessity of stories, as it is about the Vietnam War. According to O’Brien, what do stories accomplish? Why does he continue to tell stories about the Vietnam War, about Linda?
63. Reread the final two pages of this book. Consider what the young Tim O’Brien learns about storytelling from his experience with Linda. How does this knowledge prepare him not only for the war, but also to become a writer? Within the parameters of this story, how would you characterize Tim O’Brien’s understanding of the purpose of fiction? How does fiction relate to life, that is, life in the journalistic or historic sense?
Ms. Barbour is an 11th grade English and Poetry teacher at Franklin High School.