Reading Together, A community-wide book club for Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The Book 'Things They Carried.'
Book  Author

Discussion Questions

1. Why is the first story, "The Things They Carried," written in third person? How does this serve to introduce the rest of the novel? What effect did it have on your experience of the novel when O'Brien switched to first person, and you realized the narrator was one of the soldiers?

2. In the list of all the things the soldiers carried, what item was most surprising? Which item did you find most evocative of the war? Which items stay with you?

3. In "On The Rainy River," 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." What might the 43-year-old O'Brien's theory of courage be? What does this story have to say about choices and consequences?

4. In the second section of “On the Rainy River,” the narrator describes in vivid detail his job as a declotter in a meatpacking plant. How are the images he uses in describing this job similar to the images he uses to characterize fighting in Vietnam? What effect or idea does the book convey with this related imagery?

5. Often, in the course of his stories, O'Brien tells us beforehand whether or not the story will have a happy or tragic ending. Why might he do so? How does it affect your attitude towards the narrator?

6. According to O'Brien, how do you tell a true war story? What does he mean when he says that true war stories are never about war? What does he mean when he writes of one story, "That's a true story that never happened"? What is the difference between "happening-truth" and "story-truth?"

7. In "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," what transforms Mary Anne into a predatory killer? Does it matter that Mary Anne is a woman? How so? What does the story tell us about the nature of the Vietnam War?

8. What is the effect of "Notes," in which O'Brien explains the story behind "Speaking Of Courage"? Does your appreciation of the story change when you learn which parts are "true" and which are the author's invention?

9. Does your opinion of O'Brien change throughout the course of the novel? How so? How do you feel about his actions in "The Ghost Soldiers"?

10. In “The Man I Killed,” the narrator repeatedly describes details about the victim. What point do you think the book makes in this chapter and elsewhere about the humanity of the casualties?

11. In “Speaking of Courage,” the narrator describes the experiences of Norman Bowker after he returned from fighting in Vietnam. What points do this chapter and the remainder of the book make about veterans’ lives after the war?

12. The Things They Carried has several different accounts of a single event, Kiowa’s death. How does this relate to memory, storytelling and truth?

13. How is the story of Linda, the little girl, in the final chapter, “The Lives of the Dead,” related to themes and issues raised earlier in the book?

These questions come from reader’s guides published by Random House, Inc., and the Chicago Public Library

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