The Things They Carried – An Education Tool

The Things They Carried, published in 1990, is a collection of fictional short stories by Tim O’Brien taking place during the Vietnam War. The book focuses on a platoon of American soldiers in the war. O’Brien discusses the variety of things his fellow soldiers in the Alpha Company brought on their missions. ThingsTheyCarried The Things They Carried represents the intangible, including guilt and terror, while others are physical objects, such as M-16 rifles and M&M’s.  Representation takes a powerful form.  As characters carry heavy physical loads, they also all carry heavy emotional loads, including love and longing. Each man’s physical burden underscores his emotional burden. The characters mark a subtle line of separation from O’Brien’s earlier works of the memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone and the fictional novel Going After Cacciato, making them semi-autobiographical.

As a finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Things They Carried truly combines aspects of memoir, novel, and short story collection.  It has received critical acclaim and has been established as one of the most powerful pieces of the Vietnam War.  O’Brien’s use of story-telling blurs the lines between fact and fiction but, nonetheless, works to explore different ways of speaking about war experiences to an audience. While the book proves to be a thoroughly sincere, controlled image of war, it leaves a mark on the ages. The Things They Carried has been become a staple at the middle and high-school level. Therefore, it begs the question, “Is this a book that should be required when studying Vietnam?” The book displays  intense sensitivity and insight into courage and fear, while also questioning the minds of younger generations and the conclusions they may have formed about the Vietnam War.

If you are looking for information on bringing this book to your school and turning the reading into a lesson plan, This Big Read Teacher’s guide contains ten lessons to lead you through Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. You can also find the book through Amazon or your local bookstore!

See how VVMF is partnering in education, and find out how you can help teach one of the most divisive moments in US history.

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