1/25/13, Period 6
“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 true or not, it’s the reader’s decision to decide if it’s true or false. Story-tellers can use his advice to improve their stories and story telling. Furthermore, the book jumps back and forth in time with each story he tells. This makes the novel even more unique because instead of one story being told from beginning to end, it’s more like a human mind reflecting on the experiences and stories that he has encountered during his life. This is another form of advice that O’Brien gives to his audience. Story-tellers, fictional, non-fictional, or a blend of the two, can analyze O’Brien’s form of story telling and use it to their advantage.
What is the context of this novel? When was he writing it? How do the historical circumstances of the time influence what he was trying to say? How do you know?
“The Things They Carried” was written 20 years after the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was a major disappointment for the whole nation of America. Soldiers in the past, when they returned from war, were treated like heroes, mostly because we won. We lost the Vietnam War and when soldiers from that war returned, most of society rejected them and they weren’t praised as heroes. Most people tried to forget about the war and succeeded in doing so because they never went and experienced the horrors in Vietnam. Vietnam veterans, such as Tim O’Brien, tried to forget what they witnessed, but they never could forget. O’Brien writes in “Field Trip,” “Twenty years. A lot like yesterday, a lot like never” (p. 178). O’Brien returns with his daughter to the field where his friend Kiowa died, twenty years after the war ended. Kathleen tells her father that it’s weird that “some dumb thing happens a long time ago and [he] can’t ever forget it” (p. 175). Nobody really understood the war unless someone actually experienced it. Since people tried to stay silent about the war because it was such an embarrassment and veterans couldn’t relate to others, the war was never really talked about. During the 1990’s, when this book was published, people were still embarrassed about the war and people still didn’t talk about it. This book has helped others talk about the Vietnam War. During an interview on National Public Radio, a caller named Chris, tells Mr. O’Brien and the host, Neal Conan, that “through "The Things They Carried," [his] dad and [he] were actually able to have conversations about his time in Vietnam” which “led to [them] being able to have conversations about each other” (“The Things).
What is the purpose of this novel? What was the author trying to say? How do you know?
Throughout the first semester, Mr. Archer has been trying to get my class to use strong verbs to portray purpose and when I’m trying to think of a good verb to use to portray the purpose, all I can think of is O’Brien’s purpose was simply to tell stories to keep others alive in his literature. The whole novel is full of stories, true and false. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re true because he’s just trying to tell stories, but all of these stories have something is common—they’re all about war. Every single one of them. Now, the purpose has changed from “to telling stories” to telling war stories because those are the only stories he can tell. For example, in “The Lives of the Dead,” O’Brien tells the story of the nine-year-old girl named Linda, “Timmy’s first love.” It is true that this story in particular is partially a love story, but it’s a war story because Linda is in a war with a brain tumor, and Timmy is having an internal conflict and finds it hard to accept Linda’s death. He then wins the war with himself by making her alive in this story and in his mind. All of the people that died in his life are alive in his stories and according to his words, “[he’ll] never die” (p. 233) because he will be alive in his stories. Everybody is going to die someday. However, all of his friends that he wrote about will live forever in his literature.
Did you like the text? Why or why not?
I really enjoyed the text because I like reading books, watching movies, and playing video games that are about or involve warfare. It’s just a subject that fascinates me. In addition, even though the book was a fictional novel, it was still historical and it taught me more about the Vietnam War than I already knew before. In fact, I knew very little about the Vietnam War. Last year, in my AP World History class, I learned that we lost and that it was a war to stop the spread of communism. That was all I learned about that war in that class. But, when I read “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien showed me that there were real horrors in the war, such as when his buddy “Lee Strunk stepped on a rigged mortar round” which “took off his right leg at the knee” (p. 62). But, O’Brien also showed me that he sometimes felt “even though [he was] pinned down by a war [he had] never felt more at peace” (p. 34). This is strange because there are usually a lot of very non-peaceful moments in a war. O’Brien juxtaposing war and peace interests me because war isn’t really peaceful, although I can see if O’Brien just focuses on the land and admires its awesome beauty, then he can have peace and quiet. In conclusion, this book has given me a new perspective on war and storytelling.
"'The Things They Carried,' 20 Years On." Interview by Neal Conan. Talk of the Nation. NPR, Washington D.C., 24 Mar. 2010. Radio.