In the Classroom
“The Things They Carried” in the Classroom
story “The Things They Carried” offers numerous opportunities for
interdisciplinary, reading, group, research, film, and writing assignments.
Below are some possibilities:
- Have students read and compare “The Things They
Carried” with other American war-related literature, including Ernest
Hemmingway’s “Soldier’s Home,” Yusef Komunyakaa’s “To Du Street” and “Facing
It,” Randall Jarrell’s “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” Robert Bly’s
“Counting Small-Boned Bodies,” Michael Herr’s Dispatches, Walt
Whitman’s Specimen Days, or the more recent Anthony Swofford’s
- Have students read and compare “The Things They
Carried” with news accounts of soldiers in Iraq.
- Have students read “The Things They Carried” in the
context of readings on the history, causes, and effects of the Vietnam War.
- Have students read “The Things They Carried” with
examples from the anthology Both Sides Now, which includes poetry
written about the Vietnam War by Americans and Vietnamese.
- Compare this story and other accounts of war with
those by women, such as Margaret Fuller’s Foreign Correspondence of the
Tribune, which includes her accounts of the war for Italian independence in
the 1840’s, Marge Piercy’s Gone to Soldiers, or Joan Didion’s
- Have students makes lists and groupings of the
“things” the soldiers “carried” in the story. Have them discuss and analyze
the categories of things the soldiers carried.
- Have students identify the “things” they carry with
them in a variety of settings: school, work, family gatherings,
relationships. Ask them to discuss the role memory plays in their lives and
how it affects their encounters with new people and new situations.
- Have students discuss what they know about the
Vietnam War and how that knowledge influences their understanding of the
story. Encourage students who feel comfortable sharing personal experiences
in the Vietnam War (or any war) or relationships to people who served.
- Have students research the Vietnam War links on this
website in order to better understand the context of the story. How does this
story compare with factual information about the Vietnam War?
- Have students research other American writers who
have written about war, especially writers who experienced war themselves –
Ernest Hemmingway, Walt Whitman
- Many writers who examine war, including O’Brien,
focus on the psychological aspects of warfare. How does “The Things They
Carried” examine the psychology of war? Research mental conditions including
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to learn how war affects men.
- How do men and women experience war differently?
Based on your reading of war literature by men and women, research how war
affects them differently.
- Pair readings of this story with any number of films
about the Vietnam War. I have found Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Stanley
Kubrik’s Full Metal Jacket to be the most useful because they follow
individual soldiers and how they react to the war environment and
other soldiers. You might show Platoon in class or combine one or more
film clips with class discussions about the story.
- Pair readings of this story with clips from Ken
Burns’ Vietnam, particularly those parts of the documentary that
involve the reading of soldiers’ letters home, which have the same casual feel
of much of the writing in “The Things They Carried.”
- Compare the experience of soldiers in “The Things
They Carried” with the portrayal of Vietnam soldiers in any work of
non-fiction, including documentaries, histories, anthologies, or films. What
makes this a story that reflects the experience of real men in war? What
makes this a work of literary fiction?
- Consider war as a gender issue. How does war affect
men adversely? How are the men in “The Things They Carried” affected by the
Vietnam War? In what mental and physical condition do you imagine they will
return home (if they survive)? What challenges will they face?
- Analyze novels, poems, and stories of war by men and
women. Are there similarities? Differences? How are men represented in
works by women? How are women represented in works by men?
- Using your own personal experience of war or a
relationship with someone who has experienced war firsthand, analyze this
story as a reflection of war. Is it an accurate depiction? Why or
- Analyze “The Things They Carried” with another
Vietnam War story or poem, or with another work of literature that reflects
other war experiences. What does war experience in one country and time
period share in common with war experience in a completely different country
or time period?
- Why do writers write about their own war experience?
Research writers such as O’Brien or Hemingway and the effect war experience
had on them. How did it influenced their writing?
- Think of a traumatic or difficult time in your own
life. What “things” did you carry with you? Compare the things you carried
with those of the soldiers in the story.
- Compare the war experience of soldiers in “The Things
They Carried” with the war experience of soldiers in Oliver Stone’s Platoon
(or another film about the Vietnam War).
- Compare the experience of men in war in “The Things
They Carried” with the effects of war on men who have returned home in O’Brien’s “How To Tell a True
War Story.” Consider the psychological impact of war on men.
- How does your reading of “war stories” such as “The
Things They Carried” affect your perceptions and beliefs about wars in which
American soldiers are now fighting? What kinds of information about war do we
have access to in stories about war that we do not have access to through the
news media? Why is that information withheld from the public? What
do you know of "war stories" emerging from American soldiers in Iraq who have