Major Works Data Sheet
Title: The Things They CarriedAuthor: Tim O’BrienDate of Publication: 1990Genre: Fiction
| Biological information about the author:Tim O’Brien grew up in Worthington, Minnesota and now lives in Massachusetts. In 1968 he was drafted into the Vietnam Conflict and served one tour of duty from 1969-1970. After returning home he enrolled in graduate school at Harvard University and studied government. After finishing his studies he worked as a national affairs correspondent for the Washington Post. O’Brien has written several novels based on his experiences in Vietnam. The Things They Carried (published 1990) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
| Historical information about the period about the publications: The United States sent troops to Southern Vietnam in the early 1960’s to help stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. In 1954, the Viet Cong gained control over Northern half of Vietnam, but the Southern half maintained a government friendly to the United States. Beginning in the late 1950’s, Northern Vietnam began waging a guerilla war to bring all of Vietnam under its control. The United States began supporting South Vietnam during the Eisenhower administration. The governments of South Vietnam were corrupt, unstable, and did not have the support of the people. Americans found themselves fighting a guerilla war, of which they had little experience. Because of overwhelming American firepower and technological capabilities, the Viet Cong relied on ambushes, land mines, and other surprise attacks to confuse and demoralize American troops.
| Characteristics of the genre:A good realistic fiction novel is about people, their problems, and their challenges. The characters in the novel should be believable and their language and actions should be appropriate for the setting of the story and reflective of the culture and social class in which they live. Some realistic fiction is expected to include violence; in fact, the genre would be failing in its mission if some novels did not mirror the violence that many young people experience.
| Plot Summary:“The Things They Carried” displays the variety of things soldiers in the Alpha Company brought on their missions. Several of these things are intangible, including guilt and fear, while others are specific physical objects, including matches, morphine, M-16 rifles, and M&M’s candy. The first member of the Alpha Company to die is Ted Lavender, who deals with his anxiety about the war by taking tranquilizers and smoking marijuana. Lavender is shot in the head on his way back from going to the bathroom, and his superior, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, blames himself for the tragedy. When Lavender is shot, Cross is distracting himself with thoughts of Martha, a college crush. It is revealed in “Love” that Cross’s feelings for Martha, whom he dated, were never reciprocated, and that even twenty years after the war, his guilt over Lavender’s death remains. In “On the Rainy River,” O’Brien explains the series of events that led him to Vietnam in the first place. He receives his draft notice in, and his feelings of confusion drive him north to the Canadian border, which he thinks about crossing so that he will not be forced to fight in a war in which he doesn’t believe. Sitting in a rowboat O’Brien decides that his guilt about avoiding the war and fear of disappointing his family are more important than his political views. He soon leaves, and heads for Vietnam. Lee Strunk, another member of the company, dies from injuries he sustains by stepping on a landmine. In “Friends,” O’Brien remembers that before Strunk was fatally hurt, Strunk and Dave Jensen had made a pact that if either man were irreparably harmed, the other man would see that he was quickly killed. However, when Strunk is actually hurt, he begs Jensen to spare him, and Jensen complies. Instead of being upset by the news of his friend’s swift...
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