O’Brien reveals how society expects young men in transition to adulthood to let go of impractical idealism and dwell instead on the cruel reality of the world.
Tim O'Briens’ book, “The Things They Carried” provides valuable insight into the minds of soldiers, and enlightens us to the emotional and psychological costs of war. Specifically, the stories of Mary Anne, the baby water buffalo and the chapter “In the Field” help us to relate to the metamorphosis that soldiers undergo.
Topic #2: Kiowa
Kiowa is one of the many soldiers who is killed. His death is described in three of the stories. Explore the reasons why Kiowa’s death stands out to so many of the other soldiers. Why is it that so many of them claim responsibility and guilt for his loss of life? Illustrate what actions could have been taken to avoid Kiowa’s death and the guilt on the minds of so many soldiers.
Topic #3: Common themes
Although the stories are written and compiled by O’Brien and are labeled as fiction, O’Brien draws on his own experiences during the Vietnam War and the experiences of others. Many of the stories share common themes such as love, loss, regret of things left behind and left undone, violence, and dissatisfaction. The soldiers that survive come home severely changed by their experiences. Trace a common thread throughout the stories and relay how it is significant.
Topic #4: Controversy surrounding the Vietnam War
There was much controversy surrounding the Vietnam War. Soldiers were sent to kill the bad guys, only to learn that they were often firing on women and children. Throughout the stories, the soldiers reveal how disillusioned they became during and after the time they spent fighting. Choose one or two of the stories and examine the disillusionment that is described. What elements and events contribute to this disappointment in the military and the United States.
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