Discussion of Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried"

  Post your answer in the comments below. Make sure to include the number of the question you're answering and either cut and paste the question or answer in complete sentences so that we know which question you're answering.


A-9, B-10, C-11, D-12, E-13, F-1, G-2, H-3, I-4, J-5, K-6, L-7, M-8

If you have further thoughts or questions about the story, please feel to also post these below. 

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 

 

2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

 

3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

 

4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

 

5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

 

6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

 

7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

 

8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

 

9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

 

10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

 

11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

 

12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it? 


13.    How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

Comments

  1. 13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?
    I feel like this story is similar to Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" where the discussion of love is shown and talked about in the individual author's unique way. The difference between these two is that In O'Brien's story, the narrator's love for Martha got his men killed that he "loved" as brothers in arms while Carver's story has one of the main drunk couples just talk about whether an abusive husband's "love" is real love.
    -Michael

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  2. 5. Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

    A: If I had to select the moment in the story that I deemed 'climactic' above all the others, I'd pick the moment Ted Lavender is killed. However, this story is interesting in that the climax doesn't feel very climactic. The reader is told pretty much from the beginning that Lavender is going to be shot, so when it happens we're not really shocked. I think this anti-climactic climax actually furthers the story's themes; the whole point is how numb the war is making the people caught in it, so it makes sense that even the most ghastly tragedies have very little impact on the characters.

    However, an argument could also be made that Lieutenant Cross burning Martha's letters is the story's climax. This is the moment that everything 'irrevocably changes', after all. For me personally, this moment felt more like falling action technically, with climactic elements in terms of emotional impact.

    Alec

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  3. 6. Character: In what ways does the writer show character?
    Tim shows character by telling us the extra stuff that each men carried that they found to be necessary. Such as a picture or a woman, condoms, comic book, bible, extra socks, or weed. We also get more details on characters with required things that they carry with the case of Jimmy Cross where he has a compass and map but the author also tells us that he carries the responsibility of his men. We learn more about Cross with how he thinks about Martha whenever he looks at her picture. He thinks about her being a virgin and he thinks about touching her knees. Somewhat showing the reader that he might be sexually inexperienced.
    We also get shown Cross's character with how he reacts to Lavender's death. He feels extremely guilty for being distracted by his love of Martha. As readers we also see him mourning over Lavenders death by destroying a village and sitting in a hole and burning the letters and photos of Martha. As a way of showing that he is now a changed person.
    Not only do we see Cross's reaction but we get to see how others in the group coped with Lavender's death. We see Kiowa joking about it saying "Zapped while zipping." We can also sense that he's a bit scared himself about war with later seeing into Kiowa's thoughts of how "He enjoyed not being dead." and he "Admired Lieutenant Jimmy Cross's capacity for grief."

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  4. Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

    I think that one of the biggest strengths of this story is that it encompasses both intellectual level and gut level material very succinctly. One of the ways that O'Brien accomplishes this is through a sort of listing narrative style. He describes all of the things that the men carry--both tangible and intangible.

    "Ted Lavender carried 6 or 7 ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity." I'm not sure why, but this line struck my gut. Even though it was just about Ted, it further shows the individuality of each soldier and their personal needs.

    I think that this story is iconic because it creates such a diverse world within this group of men. A world that is relatable to many.

    - Elizabeth S.

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  5. 2. Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

    The story "The Things They Carried" has become one of the best stories in the past hundred years because it discusses a difficult topic, the Vietnam war. The story does not only discuss the war, but it shows how the war has impacted the men who are in the American army. The author shows the weight of the war though the weight of the things they carry. It was published in 1990 and has endured as one of the best over the past thirty years because the other encompasses feeling so well. He gives every character dimensions: sorrow, grief, love, and anger. All of these emotions move the story along in a way that feels nostalgic, and as though the reader could be someone in the story.

    Lines like "He had difficulty keeping his attention on the war. On occasion he would yell at his men to spread out the column, to keep their eyes open, but then he would slip away into daydreams, just pretending, walking barefoot along the Jersey shore, with Martha, carrying nothing. " Tim O'Brien does a great job of making you feel as though you are with these men in the story, feeling what they are feeling.

    -Taylor

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  6. 11. Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

    Tim O’Brien was born in 1946 in Minnesota. He was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1968. He is known for taking his experience in the war and writing semi autobiographical stories. He writes about things that actually happened to him but he fictionalizes them. He is well known for blurring the lines between fact and fiction. He is most known for “The Things They Carried” but his first book “If I Die in A Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home” was well praised also. The Vietnam War was a big part of his life and that is what he mostly writes about. He had the nickname “College Joe” in the war because he had gone to college and he wasn’t an outdoorsy type.

    -Bailey

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  7. By choosing third person, we’re allowed a kind of distance that is key to this story. Even though the third person POV mostly filters through Cross, Cross himself is far away from the events that happen around him, including acts of violence he takes part in. Martha is the core, the burning and sacking of a village in retaliation for Lavender’s death is a footnote. The descriptions of Martha are far more vivid than the observational, distant details of the death of Lavender and his men’s reactions. It’s as if Cross is in a bubble. He wraps himself up in his construction of Martha, insulating him from his reality. That insulation is the driving force of Cross’ story. The point of view being distant from both Cross and what was happening is essential to the piece—there is little to the piece without it.

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  8. 9. Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

    When looking to this piece, it seems to take place within Vietnam. More specifically the walk leading up to a place called Than Khe where Lavender perishes and they all but destroy it. In using the Vietnam War, and how we know it to be an exceptional travesty, is a great setting. In using Bailey's work on some background, it makes sense why he might use the war since he was in it. Perhaps even to provide closure to his own happenings in the war overall.

    The main setting OF Vietnam, but nowhere specific until someone dies is telling. To have this idea of; "search[ing] the villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of
    rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same. " (8). But also have this ending line mentioning the exact place, that "He might just shrug and say, Carry on, then they would saddle up and form into a column and move out toward the villages west of Than Khe."(14). You can see the blame setting in, how he fixates on directions away from this absolute change in his life.

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  9. 10. Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

    There were quite a few lines that caught my attention and made me fixate on them. The ones that I found the most prominent were those that either began another line of thought, showcased a new normality in an otherwise extreme situation, or were details that defined the character or plot further. In those instances and in that order:

    "She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letters weighed 10 ounces."

    They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power
    of the things they carried.

    "Martha was a poet, with the poet's sensibilities, and her feet would be brown and bare, the toenails unpainted, the eyes chilly and somber like the ocean in March, and though it was painful, he wondered who had been with her that afternoon."

    The above line is found prior to the below, in which the audience can easily see the ongoing change that has worn down the character:

    "In part, he was grieving for Ted Lavender, but mostly it was for Martha, and for himself, because she belonged to another world, which was not quite real, and because she was a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey, a poet and a virgin and uninvolved, and because he realized she did not love him and never would."

    If I'm looking for a personal favorite, I always appreciate seeing the built up effects of a paragraph either deteriorate or evolve into poignant lines of barebone, multilayered necessity, and the line below takes the cake on beautiful payoff:

    "Their principles were in their feet. Their calculations were biological."

    Tomio

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  10. 1. What makes this story “literary”?

    For me, I think the element that most makes this story literary is how character-driven it is. It would be easy to take a story about the Vietnam War and make it about action or gruesome acts. Instead we are given a glimpse at the daily lives of the men in the platoon. The format O’Brien uses really helps in giving us this glimpse. By focusing in on the things they carried, we get a indirect look at what their life and duties are. We get a sense of who they are, by seeing what’s most important to them. More importantly; we get a look at what emotional baggage they are carrying. After reading about all the things they carry, we get a quick look at the end at them being weightless and finally free of this burden, and it’s a wonderful moment that we want for these men. Then we are thrown back in to them being burdened down, because their situation isn’t escapable, but at least we got to see it for a second, because we’ve come to know these men.

    -Logan O.

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  11. 4. Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

    I think the conflict of the story is Jimmy Cross and his unreturned love to Martha and how that impacts him in the war. He spends most of his time day dreaming about her and one day his friend Ted Lavender is shot in the head on his way back from peeing. This is a turning point for Jimmy, he doesn't want to loose anyone else he loves and accepts Martha doesn't love him and that she belongs in another world. Each of the men in Jimmy's company are dealing with the effects of the war - immediate and long term. Each of them carrying items important to them, like Jimmy's good luck pebble. Jimmy struggles when he looses his friends and forces himself to be tougher and pay more attention to the things around him instead of day dreaming.

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