Exercise 1 The Things They Carried
1. How is the term common secret typical of the phrasing of this whole passage? How is run or freeze or hide also typical of the excerpt's phrasing? In which sentences does O'Brien's phrasing seem especially clear, direct, and simple, and why is such phrasing so effective? How would you describe the tone of this passage? How might the tone easily have been quite different? For instance, how could it have been highly emotional and melodramatic? Why do you think O'Brien chose to avoid that kind of tone? One of the most significant features of the phrasing is conciseness. As a reader first time reading this book, I seldom find it difficult to understand the words or sentences, because the author uses common words and simple sentence structures. The excerpt starts with anaphora. Almost every sentence begins with “they”, followed by a transitive verb and then the object. In addition, the author express his thoughts and feelings straightforwardly. He rarely uses very long and complex modifiers or symbolic images which are hard for readers to dig out the real meaning. He just use the third-person point of view to describe the soldiers’ action and emotion directly, which makes readers feel like living with them and share their fear in the war. Another apparent feature of the phrasing is parataxis. For example, “run or freeze or hide” has three monosyllabic verbs and two conjunction “or”. Conjunction “and” is also frequently used to arrange the words and phrases in coordinate. The sentence “Go limp and tumble to the ground and let the muscles unwind and not speak and not budge until your buddies picked you up and lifted you into the chopper that would roar and dip its nose and carry you off to the world” largely reveal the O’Brien’s phrasing style. Seven “and” is used in this sentence! Each of the several parts is simply and brief, but they have profound meaning as a whole. This kind of phrasing perfectly suits the theme of war. The soldiers are facing constant possibility of instant death. Short and succinct sentences can create a tense and alarming atmosphere. Polysyndeton strengthens the effect and also presents a vivid picture of the suffering of the soldiers and their complicated feelings. O'Brien's tone in regards to the war in this passage is emotional and irony. He used a lot of polysyllabic words full of negative emotion, such as “dishonor”, ”shameful” and “embarrassed”, to emphasize the various burdens which the soldiers carried both physically and mentally. He also speaks ironically to provoke thinking. For example, he writes: ”the greatest fear” is the fear of ‘’blushing”. His tone in regards to storytelling is constant: he is absolutely familiar and close to his subject. He could tell the stories from the whole to the details. Readers can easily know that he has been to the war and he tries to drag us into the real environment of battle. 2. When the narrator claims that a "soldier's greatest fear" is "the fear of blushing," is there anything ironic or anticlimactic about that final word? Why do you think O'Brien chose that word rather than some more obviously appropriate synonym? Is there any claim made in the final sentences of this passage that might provoke disagreement, especially among supporters of this war or among sympathizers with the military in general? How does O'Brien, in this passage, give new life to an old cliché? Where does his language seem especially credible and convincing, and why? When readers come to the sentence “they carried the soldier’s greatest fear”, we usually may come up with “disability”, “death”, or other words alike. However, the answer given by the author is quite different, which is “blushing” . It seems unreasonable. One may blush because of telling a lie. One may flush because of being late for an appointment. Every little mistake can make people flush. But when the soldiers are battling with enemies and faced with threaten of...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document