English 098

Writing About A Text
The Things They Carried

by Tim O'Brien

The stories we have read by Tim O'Brien deal with the Vietnam War, but they also contain many compelling issues about the human condition unchanged by the 30 years since that conflict. For your last essay of the semester, write an essay in which you draw from these stories some issue, conflict, theme, or motif that interests you. As stated in the portfolio requirements, "This should not only discuss an author's ideas but should also present the student's opinion and interpretation as distinct from the author's." Don't simply tell the story; construct an argument for a particular point of view about it. Below are several topic choices for your to consider; if you have another topic in mind, please discuss it with me before proceeding. Your essay should refer to and quote from at least three of the stories.

Refer to Keys for Writers for additional guidance on writing about literature (pages 67-72). Refer to the Text-Based 098 essays in New Voices for successful examples.


1. In "The Things They Carried," O'Brien writes that "Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to" (21). Find three characters from the assigned stories and explain how their actions, attitudes, and beliefs reflect O'Brien's point of view in regards to such issues as masculinity, cowardice and courage. What are your conclusions regarding the issues O’Brien raises? Use plenty of examples from the stories to support your point.

2. Why is it so hard to "tell a true war story"? Write an essay in which you examine O’Brien’s use of imagination and invention, and the difficulties posed by wartime conditions on truth-telling.

3. Throughout the stories, O’Brien juxtaposes images of great beauty with images of great horror, the scene of Curt Lemon’s death in "How to Tell A True War Story" being one notable example. Write an essay in which you trace the use of such contrasting images across at least three of the stories. What do these contrasting images say about O’Brien’s experiences in Vietnam?

4.  The men deal with the uncertainty, fear, and death around them in sometimes surprisingly tender, irreverently funny, or horrifyingly brutal ways. Choose three characters from the stories to examine how these characters respond to their circumstances and the men around them. What conclusions can you draw about men and war through these examples?

5.  People are usually profoundly changed by their experiences in war. Choose at least 3 characters from the stories and examine how these characters were changed by their experiences. What conclusions can you draw from these examples about the effects of war on the human spirit?

6.  What is the role of women and girls in the book?  Examine the various female characters in the novel and explain what each may represent.

7.  The "Speaking of Courage" sequence, as well as the stories related to "the Man I Killed," deal a lot with the issue of responsibility and guilt. Discuss how at least three characters deal with their feelings of guilt over the deaths of those around them.


  1. a clear thesis statement and introduction which sets out for your reader the point you wish to make about the stories. Please do not repeat verbatim the essay prompt.
  2. A very brief synopsis of the stories you are discussing. This means writing a sentence or two about each story (no more than one paragraph in total).
  3. an analysis supported by examples from the text, properly quoted (or paraphrased) and cited.
  4. You are not required to use sources other than O’Brien’s book to support your views; if you do use any outside sources, make sure you properly quote or paraphrase and cite. The use of outside sources for this essay is strongly discouraged!
  5. Length: 3-4 pages
  6. All drafts must be typed (10 or 12 font), double-spaced, 1" margins. .
  7. Must have a title other than the book title.
  8. Use MLA format for citing.  You are not required to use a separate sheet of paper for Works Cited.
  9. Remember to save all drafts!!

Due Dates:

Please note that it is MOST IMPORTANT that you adhere to this schedule!  No Late Papers PLEASE!