Teacher Notes on The Things They Carried Use them as you read!!

Could this all be based on real events and real people? The answer is, Yes. But "Based on" and "True" are two different things

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Could this all be based on real events and real people? The answer is, Yes. But "Based on" and "True" are two different things.

Does this "author's trick" mean that O'Brien is a bad writer? The answer is, No. I use the word "trick" facetiously. I should properly use the word "technique." I use the word "trick" because I want you to understand that what O'Brien is doing with his technique is fool you into thinking that the fictional story you are reading is not fiction at all. O'Brien is supposed to manipulate you. He is an artist who is attempting to bring you to a new point of view. He is attempting to make you see reality in a whole new way. It is his obligation to try and change the way you think. It is your obligation to recognize what he is doing. In fact, recognizing what O'Brien is doing is part of what he has to teach you. Later in the novel he will try to explain the concept of Truth and what we must do in order to understand the truth in a fictional story.

Another tool you have been taught about evaluating novels and stories is to examine the title of the work. With this in mind, why is the story called "Love"? Love between whom? What kind of love are we talking about? Is it Jimmy and Martha? Jimmy and the men in the platoon? Jimmy and Tim? Annmarie B., Class of '04 suggested that it might be the love between Tim and his writing. This would add to the tension of the last sentences. Does Tim betray Jimmy because telling the truth in his writing is more important than his fidelity and loyalty to Jimmy? Of course, this only works if you suspend your disbelief and think of  both characters as real as would do anyway with a truly good work of fiction.

Static Character: At this point in the story is Jimmy Cross still the dynamic character he was in the first story? Dennis W., Class of  '04, believes that he is not. Dennis believes that since he still loves Martha in this story, because he got a new picture of her and because we don't really know about a change in Lt. Cross's leadership after the day Ted Lavender was shot, we should be looking at Jimmy Cross as a static character.


"Spin" is made up of a group of interesting vignettes that reveal the characters and the setting to the reader. Through these vignettes we begin to see the inhumanity of Azar, that Kiowa has a philosophical side and Rat Kiley is a bit dense. Ted Lavender's character is fleshed out a tiny bit more. The war itself is described. So is the fear that the soldiers feel while being in action. These are vignettes, but grouped together, early in the novel, they help to set the stage for the stories that come later.

Norman Bowker plays checkers. The narrator likes the game of checkers and describes what it is he likes. Through his description of what the game of checkers is, we discover what life in Vietnam is because we understand that Vietnam was everything that checkers is not.

The boredom of the war is described in a way that makes the reader understand the constant fear that a soldier experienced. The irony of O'Brien's use of the word boredom is devastating.

In some of the vignettes, the war is described as unexpected contrasts. "You're pinned down in some filthy hellhole of a paddy, getting your ass delivered to kingdom come, but then for a few seconds everything goes quiet and you look up and see the sun and a few puffy white clouds, and the immense serenity flashes against your eyeballs -- the whole world gets rearranged -- and even though you're pinned down by a war you never felt more at peace." (O'Brien 39) The best film I have seen that reflects this idea is The Thin Red Line. I would hazard a guess that the filmmakers were aware of Norman Mailer, James Jones and Tim O'Brien when they made the movie.

One of the most telling lines in this chapter is a single sentence that describes a metaphor for the war in Vietnam: "A field of elephant grass weighted with wind, bowing under the stir of a helicopter's blades, the grass dark and servile, bending low, but then rising straight again when the chopper went away." (O'Brien 40) This is what is was to fight the Vietcong.  The helicopters would come in and the enemy would give way, but as soon as they left, the Cong would come back in to fill the void.

The last vignette attempts to give a definition of a story: "That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story." (O'Brien 40)

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