The Things They Carried Study Guide “The Things They Carried” 1. How heavy are the “things” that each soldier carries? 2. Is O’Brien making us think of the “weight” of what we do in new ways? 3. What role does Martha play in Jimmy’s experience in Vietnam? 4. Why do the soldiers burn Than Khe after Lavender is shot? 5. Why does Norman Bowker carry a Vietnamese boy’s thumb? 6. What does O’Brien mean by the “great American war chest” on page 16? 7. Why does Kiowa keep talking about Lavender? Why does Bowker contradict himself by telling Kiowa that he doesn’t like talkative Indians, and when Kiowa is silent, he says he doesn’t like silent Indians? 8. What does it mean when Jimmy decides that he hates instead of loves Martha? 9. What religious symbolism is in this story? “Love” 1. Is this title ironic? Why or why not? 2. What does Jimmy not want the writer to mention? “Spin” 1. Why would the soldiers long for some order? 2. How is the checkerboard like a metaphor for war, or is it? 3. Is there a winner and a loser in war? 4. Why does O’Brien mix terrible and sad scenes with funny or touching scenes? 5. How can war be boring? 6. Why do people remember their experiences in war so clearly? 7. What role is writing his wartime stories playing in O’Brien’s life? On the Rainy River” 1. What questions did O’Brien have coming out of college and into the War on Vietnam? 2. Why does the author say that being against the war in college was “entirely an intellectual activity?” (41) 3. Why does O’Brien use the image of the pig and the de-clotting gun in this story? 4. Do you think the old man in the story is real or imaginary? 5. Why does O’Brien agonize so much about his decision? 6. What does he mean when he says, “I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to” (59)? And “I survived, but it’s not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to war” (61). “Enemies” 1. What is the point of this story? 2. Do you think Jensen is motivated by guilt? What about Strunk? 3. Why doesn’t Strunk admit to the theft? “Friends” 1. Why did Strunk and Jensen become friends again? 2. Did Strunk ever confess? 3. Why did he change his mind after being wounded? 4. Why did Jensen feel relief when Strunk died? “How to Tell a True War Story” 1. Why does O’Brien say a “true war story is never moral” (68)? 2. What does it mean when the author writes, “You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you? If you don’t care for obscenity, you don’t care for the truth; if you don’t care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war; they come back talking dirty” (69). 3. What do you think happened the night the soldiers thought they heard a cocktail party in the forest? 4. Why does Mitchell Sanders believe, “The moral, I mean. Nobody hears nothin’. Nobody listens. Like that fatass colonel. The politicians, all the civilian types. Your girlfriend. My girlfriend. Everybody’s sweet little virgin girlfriend. What they need is to get out on LP. The vapors, man. Trees and rocks—you go to listen to your enemy” (76). “The Dentist” 1. Why do the men with the most fear try to hide it by acting macho? 2. Is Curt Lemon’s name a tongue-in-cheek joke? “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” 1. Why does O’Brien use a female in this role instead of a male? 2. Why is Mary Anne seduced by the night patrols, the danger, and the jungle? 3. Why does Mary Anne say the war in “not bad” and yet she has a necklace of human tongues around her neck? Why does she say Vietnam makes her “glow in the dark”? 4. What do you think happened to Mary Anne in the end? 5. Why does Rat like to tell this story? 6. Why didn’t Mark Fossie anticipate that bringing his girlfriend into a war zone would make problems? “Stockings” 1. Are you surprised that Dobbins would be superstitious? Why or why not? 2. Why does Dobbins say at the end of the story that the magic still works? “Church” 1. Why does Dobbins get along well with the Buddhist monks? 2. Why would Dobbins like to be a monk? Why doesn’t he think he could be a minister in the States? 3. Do you think it’s important to be “nice” to the non-combatants in a war zone? Why does Dobbins believe it’s important to “treat them decent” (123)? “The Man I Killed” 1. Why does O’Brien mention the long history of invasions that Vietnam had experienced over the centuries? 2. How long before the U.S. invaded had the French used Vietnam as one of its colonies? 3. Why does the author feel so bad about the death of the young Vietnamese man he killed in the war? 4. Why is it ironic that a Native American (Kiowa) is asking questions about whether or not the author is okay after killing a young, non-white man? 5. Throughout the stories there are silences and soldiers trying to get the others to talk or be quiet. Kiowa figures in many of these stories, and Native Americans are known for their ability to remain silent. Why does talking seem to be important in this story? “Ambush” 1. This is the same story as in the one above. Whose perspective is it this time? 2. How does the difference in narrator change the story or make it the same? 3. Why does the author keep reliving this event? 4. Do you think he forgives himself or not? 5. Why does he have to tell us the story? 6. Why did he lie to his daughter, but tell the story to us? “Style” 1. Why do you think the girl dances outside the hut where her entire family has been killed? 2. Why does Dobbins take Azar to the well? 3. Do you think Dobbins functions as the conscience of the unit? Why or why not? “Speaking of Courage” 1. How does Bowker contrast courage with the reality of the setting? 2. Why didn’t the soldiers pay attention to the woman who tried to warn them about the field? 3. How does the lake that Bowker circles reflect the lake in which Kiowa died? Is the author using the two lakes as contrasts? 4. Why doesn’t Bowker tell the voice at the drive-in his story? 5. How does he feel about not rescuing Kiowa? 6. Why does Bowker seem to fixate on the medal and not on rescuing Kiowa? “Notes” 1. The “notes” here are notes to the story above, “Speaking of Courage.” Do you think here O’Brien is coming forward as the narrator and speaking the truth? 2. Are you surprised at Bowker’s death? 3. What does O’Brien confess at the end of “Notes”? 4. Why did he write both stories? 5. Why does O’Brien say he writes about the war? “In the Field” 1. In this story, numerous people shoulder the blame for Kiowa’s death. Who are they, and who is really to blame? 2. Who do you think the unnamed, young soldier is? Why isn’t he named? 3. Why does the lieutenant seem to drift away toward the end of the story? “Good Form” 1. What does the author tell us now about his reasons for writing? 2. How do his words about previous stories make you feel? 3. Why does O’Brien revisit stories and episodes within the text? “Field Trip” 1. Why does O’Brien revisit the field where Kiowa died with his daughter? 2. How does the field appear now after twenty years? 3. What does the author say he lost in this field? 4. Why does O’Brien take the moccasins to the river? 5. Why does the author say perhaps he had gone under with Kiowa, and now he had worked his way out again? “The Ghost Soldiers” 1. What are the differences between being on the front and behind the lines with a supply battalion? 2. Why does O’Brien miss the combat zone? 3. What role does Morty Philips play in this story? 4. What is the soldiers’ philosophy on luck? 5. What happens when O’Brien is no longer part of the unit in the boonies? 6. What happens when he meets the doctor again, and why is he upset that he can no longer hate him? 7. Why does O’Brien still want revenge on the doctor? 8. Who are the ghosts? 9. How does O’Brien describe terror? 10. What happens to Azar? What is the difference between his and the author? 11. How does Jorgenson act when he discovers what happened? “Night Life” 1. What happened to Rat Kiley? 2. Why were the guys in the unit so understanding? “The Lives of the Dead” 1. Why does the author act the way he does towards the corpse? 2. Why does the author use the story of Linda in this story? 3. How do we make the dead seem not so dead according to the author? 4. What does the author mean by the very last statement in the book, that he’s trying to save his own life as a child?
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