Student Response to "The Things They Carried"


            "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien at first seemed to be just another war story.  As I started reading I thought I was not going to have any interest at all in the story; however after I got into the story I found myself more interested than I thought I was going to be.  This story is an excellent depiction of war itself.  It is very realistic and easy to relate to even without any personal experience with war.  The title itself paves the way for the entire story, it could not be any better for the story then it is.  The entire story is about "the things they carried," and the author does choose to go into great detail about the things that they did carry. 

            While I was reading the story one question that kept running through my mind was in regard to the depth of information about the physical weights of the soldiers' items.  Why would O'Brien go into this much depth about how much every individual item weighs?  One thought on this that came to mind was that perhaps it is not as much about the physical weight as much as it is about the overall psychological experience.  War is very stressful and can very easily become more then one can handle.  I think that Tim O'Brien does a very good job at throwing in all of that information about how much this weighs and who has to carry that to almost overwhelm the reader.  When he "overwhelms" the reader he makes it much easier for the reader to see the story from the frame of mind that a soldier would see it.  The author also breaks in to the detailed list disrupting the flow of the items by informing the reader of the deaths of soldiers.  He talks about them in giving us personal information about the soldiers and then all of the sudden another one is dead.  This also helps the reader get a clear representation of war because in war it is very dangerous and you never know what is going to come your way.

      Another question did catch my attention.  Are these items really all that the soldiers carry or is there more?  While I was reading I noticed that the author did leave hints in the story about the more deep variety of the things that they carried.  He used phrases such as "They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear," "They were afraid of dying but they were even more afraid to show it," and "They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die." This suggests that the actual items that the soldiers carry are essentially unimportant, even though they take up a large portion of the story.  What is important however is what these soldiers are actually carrying with them.  What the soldiers are carrying around with them is the devastating psychological affects of war.  I think one good question for the class is do you think that Tim O'Brien effectively portrays the psychological affects of war?  Also I want to add in one quote that I think is very important to think about to understand the story.  "Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.  It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor."

Observations about Student Response



Notice how the student is aware of his reading process.  Noticing how your response to a story changes can be a source of questions.


Notice his awareness of what puzzles him.  The question serves to launch half of his response.



 Notice how the student makes connections between the various aspects of the story that he notices:  in this case, the list of things the soldiers carried and the interrupting deaths.


 Notice how this question builds on the last question, thus allowing the student to elaborate on his thinking about the topic.

Notice also his citation of specific textual material to illustrate his point.