The Things They Carried


Tim O’Brien went to Vietnam, came home, and wrote a book. In this novel (read: fiction) our main character, Tim O’Brien, goes to Vietnam, comes home, and writes about it. Confused? Not to worry. I’ll be providing some analysis, extra resources, and generally great stuff here. Stay tuned.

Click on the chapter titles for the various assignments, worksheets, and in-class writing guidelines.

Chapter 3 – “Spin”

This is a short worksheet designed to get us to begin thinking about some of the major themes in this novel, specifically that the line between reality and fiction. Where is that line? When does a story stop being true and become a fiction? How much embellishing is okay before it is a lie?

Chapter 4 – “On The Rainy River”

This is the prompt for an in-class writing assignment that I hope that you’ll have fun with. It deals with the somewhat sticky question of courage– specifically who has it, who doesn’t, and why.

Chapter 7 – “How To Tell A True War Story”

This is a brief worksheet designed to help us explore what it means to tell a true story, according to Tim O’Brien. The answer might surprise you.

Chapter 8 – “The Dentist”

O’Brien starts this chapter off with a disturbing reminder that Curt Lemon is dead. O’Brien begins by asking us not to mourn him, not to get “sentimental about the dead.” This is a bit disturbing– I find that I am sentimental about a number of people that I have lost in my life, yet O’Brien seems to be telling us that it is unnecessary to feel this way. Is he making some special exception for Lemon, or does he really believe that we should not have any special feelings for those who have gone on before us?

Chapter 9 – “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” – Note: There is typo in this worksheet. Grr…

This is a very, very odd chapter, to be completely honest. I can’t really figure out where it fits into the narrative structure of the novel, or quite what its purpose is, save for one great line about attempting to describe the taste of chocolate. (I’ll bring some in, we’ll all have some (any allergies?), and give it a shot). It seems in some ways as though the singular purpose of this story is to remind the reader of O’Brien’s desperate attempts to describe a war; he is doing everything he can to paint us a picture of Vietnam, but ultimately it is a little like describing the taste of chocolate. It is nearly impossible, and certainly subjective.

Chapter 15 – Speaking of Courage

In the beginning of the series on Norman Bowker I am struck by the contrast in locations described in the chapter. On one hand Bowker’s midwestern home is sparse, unchanging, muted. On the other the area around the Song Tra Bong river delta is chaotic, rapidly changing, and violent. Perhaps it is this contrast that Bowker is unable to reconcile, perhaps it is the trauma of watching Kiowa die. Either way, it is notable that Bowker is tortured and unable to reintegrate into his home town.

Chapter 17 – In the Field

This chapter is a relatively interesting meditation on guilt, responsibility, and whether or not any of it matters at all.

This video uses a number quotes from The Things They Carried, pairs them with some pretty powerful imagery, and more or less ruins things with some horrific music. I’d just turn off the sound and check it out.