Posted: April 27th, 2021

Discussion for o’brien’s “the things they carried”


Discussion for O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

An interesting way to see the difference between the modern and postmodern sensibilities is to compare Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” and O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” In Hemingway’s story, the reality of World War I is completely omitted; we only get hints of what Nick experiences from the way Nick describes his fishing trip. The symbols and images of the story all relate to Nick’s repressed memories of the War.

O’Brien’s story, in contrast, overflows with details about the Vietnam conflict and the lifestyle of soldier—to the point where the reader can be overwhelmed. O’Brien uses a very different strategy to tell his narrative: he includes long detailed lists of objects belonging to each soldier. The narrator also directly tells the reader the emotions each soldier possesses (unlike Hemingway who omits such details and revelations). The overarching symbol of the story—“carrying”—has multiple meanings (unlike Hemingway’s story where the symbols all reveal one meaning). In a postmodern text, a symbol’s meaning will be multiple, or will change as the story progresses.

1. Including long lists of items would seem to be an unusual method of telling a war story. How does this unusual method add to the story? As the lists of the soldiers’ possessions continue to grow, how does the symbolic meaning of “carrying” slowly change?  Find two examples and explain.

(Hint: “Carrying” seems to be related to soldier-related equipment and its sheer weight. Then “carrying” transforms into holding onto one’s personal items, so the burden is about maintaining one’s personal identity or one’s connection to home in the midst of war.) 

2. O’Brien writes, “[. . .] for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.” For all its brutal, detailed clarity, the story is filled with scenes in which the men struggle with ambiguity and mystery. What is Lt. Cross’s mystery? What are the mysteries that all the soldiers face while fighting in Vietnam? Find two passages in which these mysteries and ambiguities are explored. 

(Hint: Find one passage that relates to the mystery that Lt. Cross thinks about. Find another passage to a personal mystery that a different solder carries.)


Due on Apr. 22, 11:59 pm.

You will submit your answers as a Microsoft Word document to the Turnitin database, which is in the Assignments section of Blackboard.

Please use the Answer Sandwich method to answer each question.  The passages you add to your answer should be around 2-4 sentences long. Please include a page reference. don’t forget you need 2 quotes for each question and the page numbers to support where your supporting quotes are from for your answer 

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