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Discussions Questions for “The Things They Carried”

Discussions Questions for “The Things They Carried” post image

As part of the little reading project/discussion I’m hosting for Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, I decided to post some discussion questions I found at Reading Group Guides.

You DO NOT have to answer these questions in your review or to participate – I’m just posting them for people who are interested. I’ll be basing my review around these questions because I think they’re good and I hope they’ll spark some thoughtful discussion.

See you next Monday, July 26 for my thoughts on The Things They Carried, plus a Mr. Linky to share your reviews/thoughts and some discussion in the comments. I can’t wait!

Discussion Questions

1. The narrator of The Things They Carried goes by the same name as the author, but the title page notes that this is a “work of fiction.” How did this launch your reading of the book?

2. In the title story, soldiers carry things both tangible and intangible. Which were heavier? Which items spoke most powerfully to you? What do you carry around with you every day, materially and emotionally? What do soldiers carry in war today, and what would you most want to carry in war?

3. At the end of “How to Tell a True War Story,” O’Brien claims the story he’s just related “wasn’t a war story. It was a love story” (page 85). How does O’Brien distinguish between a war story and a love story?

4. The soldiers often tell jokes to relieve tension. Did you find their jokes funny? How is language important to the soldiers? What words do they use to make their experience easier to handle? What other tricks do the soldiers use to keep themselves sane?

5. “A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe” (page 78). Which stories in this collection made your stomach believe? Which felt true? Is it essential to you that a story be rooted in fact? If so, what do you make of Thumbelina, Alice in Wonderland, or the stories of Edgar Allan Poe?

Any other suggestions for questions? Initial impressions if you’ve started to read the book? Either way, can’t wait to talk about the book with you!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeanne July 21, 2010, 7:15 am

    I’m putting these questions with my printed-out copy of the story. I’ll be out of town but with internet access, so have ambitions of enjoying a little of this discussion amid the craziness of family travel.

    • Kim July 22, 2010, 9:16 pm

      Jeanne: I did the same thing — good idea! Good luck with your traveling, I hope you get to participate in the chat (and since its online, you can always chime in when you get back).

  • Heather J. July 21, 2010, 8:05 am

    I’ll answer some of these in my review (which I hope to write this week). I listened to this on audio so I’ll be discussing that as well. As far as the book itself it concerned, I have strong but mixed feelings about it. As a war story, I expected it to be uncomfortable but there were some things that really disturbed me. And I have mixed feelings about the Vietnam-era soldiers’ experiences in general, based on what I know of my Dad’s time there. Plus, the combination of fact and fiction in the book was troublesome to me, though I think I understand why it was done.

    So … yeah … this book has me very confused. Hopefully my review will actually make sense!

    • Kim July 22, 2010, 9:18 pm

      Heather: I remember it being a disturbing book, and one that is tricky because of the mix of fact and fiction. It’s not as easy book to read, even though the prose is so simple and clean and it’s not very long. I’m hoping the discussion will help with all of these things. I have no plans to make a not confused review 🙂

  • Scott July 21, 2010, 2:56 pm

    Great questions – I wish I had time to join you in reading it!

    • Kim July 22, 2010, 9:19 pm

      Scott: Reading Group Guides had a lot of good questions. I just picked a few that reflect some of my interests in reading the story. When you lead the discussion, you get to direct it a bit 🙂