John Steinbeck: Interview Transcript

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Tiernan Osborne
1/25/13, Period 6
AP English
“The Things They Carried” Questions

a) What are the main subjects/topics of this novel? What exactly is the author writing about? How do you know?

The main subject of this book is the horrors of war. Tim O’Brien fought in the Vietnam War and has experienced some of the events he retells in the book. For example, in “The Man I Killed,” a chapter in the book, O’Brien describes the man he killed over and over again because the horror that he killed someone was imprinted on his mind. His friend, Kiowa tells him to “come on, stop staring” (p. 120). But O’Brien can’t stop staring at the deceased man because he continues to describe every detail about him over and over again. I have a family friend who is in the military and when he was in Afghanistan 2 years ago, he had to kill someone on his birthday. He was horrified by what he had done and he still is horrified to this very day. O’Brien is demonstrating the same horror that he felt when he killed someone by repeating details and he doesn’t know what to do but just think about what this man’s life could have been like. Furthermore, in “Speaking of Courage,” O’Brien tells an anecdote about Norman Bowker’s life after the war through the eyes of Norman Bowker. Norman Bowker wants to “[explain] how his friend Kiowa slipped away... beneath the dark swampy field” and how it was him who “let the guy go” (p. 147). O’Brien writes in “Notes” that Norman Bowker hung himself 3 years after O’Brien wrote “Speaking of Courage.” Norman had no way of dealing with the horrors he experienced in the war and it wasn’t easy for him to re-enter into a society that had no idea what he had been through. This is similar to the old guy that hung himself in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” The old guy was cleared to re-enter society and he couldn’t take it because he was so used to living in prison. In fact, he spent most of his life in prison. Well, this is similar to Norman’s situation because Norman got used to a life of war and horrible sights and then to be returned to a life he barely remembers caused him to end his life.

Who is the author of this novel? What are his beliefs? What did he stand for? What did he stand against? How do you know?

The author of this novel is Tim O’Brien, a war-veteran from the Vietnam War, who was against the war. He says in “On the Rainy River” that “[he] was drafted to fight a war [he] hated” and “the American war in Vietnam seemed...wrong to him. In addition, it was [his] view then and still is [today], that you don’t make war without knowing why” (p. 38). O’Brien didn’t understand why we went to war with Vietnam and he stood against the war. In fact, he ran away and headed north to cross the border and live safely in Canada. But when he’s 20 yards away from the shore, “[he] couldn’t make [himself] be brave” and he thought to himself, “I would go to the war — I would kill and maybe die— because I was embarrassed not to” (p. 57). O’Brien believes and stands for pride because if he did jump into the water and made it to the Canadian shore, his pride would have been shattered into a million pieces. He would face so much “patriotic ridicule” (p. 57) from fellow Americans if he did and he felt ashamed for running away and decided to keep his pride by going to fight, even if he didn’t agree with the war.

Who was his original intended audience? For whom was he writing this work? How do you know?

Tim O’Brien’s original intended audience was story-tellers. The whole piece consists of a bunch of stories put together—in other words, a collection of anecdotes. In “How to Tell a True War Story,” O’Brien states that “a thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” In addition, he also says that “you can tell a true war story if you just keep on telling it” (pp. 80 & 81). O’Brien is stating it doesn’t matter if a story is...
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