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The Things They Carried

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1 The Things They Carried
Tim O’Brien

2 “On The Rainy River” Explores the role of shame in war and embarrassment as a motivating factor. This story is a most obvious example of O’Brien’s fiction-as-truth: Its point is to convey an emotional truth, not facts. He clearly puts the reader in his position as a young, naïve person facing a difficult decision.

3 “On the Rainy River” How the Vietnam War differed from other wars
Average age of soldier: 19 (WW II: 26) In Vietnam War, many went to college to avoid war Men had to explain why they served: not serving was acceptable Soldiers served a tour of duty In combat, there was no safety in the rear – there was no rear in Vietnam There was little support for either the soldier or the war from the general population of the U.S. Vietnam had not directly threatened the U.S.

4 “On the Rainy River” The war was fought in a country whose history, culture, religions, and values were quite different from ours The war’s goal was unclear: There was never a clear indication that America would do whatever was necessary to win The officers in charge were often inexperienced and/or inconsistent. Fragging occurred Fighting casualties exceeded those in WW II Territory was taken, lost, and taken repeatedly There were no clear combat zones; there was no front No emotional support was offered returning soldiers

5 “On the Rainy River” All of the soldiers did not return home at the same time No war since the Civil War caused such a split in U.S. public opinion, leading to social unrest and violence Vietnam was the first war the U.S. lost The war was broadcast on TV daily Drug use was part of the combat scene; problems in the military included financial corruption, racism, low morale, theft, murder, and suicide

6 “The Things They Carried” and “Platoon”
Character parallels TTTC Platoon O’Brien Taylor Lt. Cross Lt. Wolfe Kiowa King Lavendar Gardner Rat Kiley Rhah Azar Bunny Henry Dobbins Big Harold

7 “The Things They Carried”
Hand grenades smoke bombs M-16 assault rifle (7.5 pounds, unloaded with 8.5 to 14 pounds of ammunition) M-16 maintenance gear: 1 pound Hatchet (7 pounds) flashlight (2 pounds) Poncho (2 pounds) Steel helmet (5 pounds) Flak jacket (7 pounds) jungle boots (7 pounds) M-60 (23 pounds, unloaded: pounds of ammo) PRC-25 radio (26 pounds) Medic gear: 20 pounds M-79 grenade launcher: 6 pounds; 50 pounds of ammo

8 “The Things They Carried”
C-rations: 2 lbs P-38 can openers Pocket knife: 1 lb Heat tabs Watch Dog tags Insect repellent Gum/candy Cigarettes/lighters salt tablets Iodine tablets Kool-Aid packets Sterno/matches Sewing kits 2 or 3 canteens of water Total: 15 to 20 pounds, depending on the man

9 The Things They Carried
The Things They (and we) Carry The metaphor of carrying gives weight to the idea that the things we carry —whether physical or emotional —enable us to navigate life’s inconsistencies.

10 The Things They Carried
The notion that people carry heavy emotional burdens is a universal one: O’Brien switching between first-person narrative and third-person throughout the book reflects his belief that by telling his own story, he is telling the story of many.

11 “Love” Lt. Cross shows how repression of painful memories can be essential for survival. The feelings behind the story are the investment for the reader, rather than what is truth and fiction. In a twist, we don’t know if what Cross has asked O’Brien to leave out of the story is in there or not.

12 “Love” At the end of the “Love” chapter, Jimmy Cross says, “Don’t mention anything about – ” but is cut off by O’Brien. What two questions does this create for the reader about the story and about O’Brien? Is what he wanted to be left out actually in there or not? Regardless, is O’Brien a reliable narrator? The ambiguous ending reflects veterans’ difficulty in articulating traumatic experiences: a task storytelling can address.

13 “Spin” The unconnected anecdotes here echo the fragmentation of the war experience. War has no winners or losers, unlike Dobbins and Bowker’s game of checkers. O’Brien’s relationship with his daughter, Kathleen, reveals the importance of storytelling: to deliver the past into the future, for giving perspective and understanding.

14 “Spin” Jot down these important quotes:
As a writer, “You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present.” “Remembering leads to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”

15 “Enemies/Friends” O’Brien presents a fight within a war: a microcosm to the macrocosm of Vietnam. The meaninglessness of the fight: It was over a stolen jackknife. This is a metaphor for the meaninglessness the men feel over the war itself. This is seen when Strunk laughs when Jensen breaks his own nose: After all, Strunk thinks Jensen was justified in his fight with Strunk, because Strunk does admit he stole Jensen’s jackknife.

16 “Enemies/Friends” However, the fight is more personal and emotional than the war: Strunk’s nose is broken because his “enemy” relentlessly beats him and crushes his nose. Strunk loses his leg for no reason other than where he stepped. He could not have known or prevented it. So in the fight between the two men, the enemy is visible and is physical. Conversely, the war often lacks a visible opponent.

17 “Enemies/Friends” “Friends” ends with Jensen violating his original pledge and not killing Strunk. Does this make Jensen more or less trustworthy as a friend? Would he have been a murderer if he carried out the pledge he and Strunk made? What would you do in that situation?

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