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  1.   Examine the reverse side of the title page, specifically the      publication history of the stories in the book.  What does this information tell you about the writing of this book?      

2    Are all these stories in their original form? Explain.

3    Is it a collection of short stories? Or is it a collection of non-fiction essays?

4.   On the next page, find out who the author has dedicated this book to?

5.   Since the people named appear in the book, does that mean they are not fictional characters? Explain.

6.   Read the epigraph to the book, taken from John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary. What was Andersonville?  What war is this referring to? What does this epigraph say about the truthfulness and accuracy of O’ Brien’s story? How are we to read The Things They Carried, according to the epigraph—as truth or fiction?

7.   The Things They Carried refers to both physical objects as well as things emotional in nature.

What physical items would you carry with you into battle? What emotions would you carry?

8.    The first chapter, entitled The Things They Carried,  is one of only two chapters written in the

3rd person.  How do you think this might serve as a useful introduction to the rest of the book?

CHAPTER 1: The Things They Carried

1.   Who is Martha? What was her relationship with Jimmy Cross? What did Jimmy pretend?

2.  List ten items of “necessity” which the soldiers carried. Check off the ones which were on your list. (pg. 2)

3.   List 5 optional items which the soldiers carried? Which one surprised you the most?  Why?(pg. 3)

4.   Draw an inference about each character based on the things they carried. (pg. 3)

5.   What were the soldiers called?

6.   Who dies in this chapter? Describe his death.

7.   What types of ammunition did they carry?

8.   Describe the tunnel episode on page 12. Why is this     particularly frightening?

9.   How did Norman Bowker obtain his “superstitious” item?

10. Explain Lt. Cross’ reaction to the death one of his men. How are his emotions tied into his feelings for Martha and his own life? (pgs. 16-17)

11. Explain the passage about death on page 19.

12. What “emotional baggage” did the men carry? (pg. 21) How realistic is this?

13. At the end of this chapter, what does Lt. Cross do with Marthas’s letters?  How is this gesture symbolic? How does he change after this action?


Chapter 2: "Love"

1. What inference can be made about Martha?


Chapter 3: "Spin"

1. Explain three emotions experienced by the soldiers. Cite examples from the text.

Chapter 4: "On a Rainly River"

  1. At the beginning of the story, "On the Rainy River," O’Brien lists a number of problems with the war, but draws no conclusions about them.  What is it about these issues that makes him oppose the war?

  2. "On the Rainy River" is perhaps the moral center of the book. In this section we meet Elroy Berdahl. Do you think he existed in O'Brien's life? What does he represent? What does Elroy Berdahl do that leads O’Brien to call him “the hero of my life”? Why doesn’t Berdahl ask O’Brien why he’s there?

  3. In "On The Rainy River," (p. 40) we learn the 21-year-old O'Brien's theory of courage: "Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down. It was a comforting theory" (40). What might the 43-year-old O'Brien's theory of courage be? Were you surprised when he described his entry into the Vietnam War as an act of cowardice? Do you agree that a person could enter a war as an act of cowardice?

  4. P.52 O’Brien says “What it came down to stupidly was a sense of shame.”  What is the role of shame in the lives of these soldiers? Does it drive them to acts of heroism, or stupidity? Or both? What is the relationship between shame and courage, according to O'Brien?

  5. Read pp. 56-61, on the edge of the Canadian border. O'Brien asks, "What would you do?" (p. 56). Well, what would you do? Why doesn’t O’Brien go to Canada?

  6. O'Brien calls himself a coward (p. 61). How do you understand this self-judgment? Do you agree with it? If he had made another decision, what would he have been?

  7. Why is O’Brien ashamed of this story?  Why has it taken him so long to tell it?

"How To Tell a True War Story"

1. Why does O'Brien need to open with the statement, "This is true"?

2.Discuss the various episodes in this story. Why are they chosen for the theme he is considering?  

3.Explain the following: "That's a true story that never happened"; "Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true"; "A thing may happen and be a total lie." 

4.Is there anything "beyond telling," as he says on page 71?  

5.What is Sanders' view of storytelling?

6.What, for O'Brien, is "truth"? A "true story"? A "true war story"?





In "In The Field," O'Brien writes, "When a man died, there had to be blame." What does this mandate do to the men of O'Brien's company? Are they justified in thinking themselves at fault? How do they cope with their own feelings of culpability?