The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Study Questions
Part 4- "Speaking of Courage" Story Cycle
Amy Reynolds, Engl. 098

"Speaking of Courage"
  1. As the story opens, what is Norman Bowker doing?
  2. What happened to Norman's friend Max?
  3. On pg. 129, what does Max say about the necessity of God as an "idea"?
  4. What happened to his old girlfriend, Sally Kramer?
  5. How long has he been doing his present activity? (see pg. 140)
  6. What day of the year does this story take place?
  7. Which one of his medals was Norman Bowker especially proud of?
  8. What medal did he almost win?
  9.  How did the Song Tra Bong change during the rainy season?
  10.  What was it about the river that especially got to Norman?
  11.  What did the town not care to know about?
  12.  What does the word "bivouack" mean?
  13.  What did the old women of the ville yell to the men when they bivouacked in the field?
  14.  What did the soldiers realize was the purpose of the field?
  15.  In the field, what was the difference between courage and cowardice?
  16.  What happened to the platoon late in the night?
  17. Who did Norman hear screaming?
  18. What did Norman see in the glare of the red flares?
  19. How did Norman try to save Kiowa?
  20. What made him fail?
  21. What would Norman never be able to do?
  22. Where is Norman at the very end of the story, and what is he looking at?
  1. What did Norman do to himself  in 1978?
  2. What did he feel had happened to him in Vietnam?
  3. What does he ask Tim to do?
  4. What had O'Brien felt smug about?
  5. According to O'Brien, what are you doing when you tell stories about your own experience?
  6. How did O'Brien feel about the short story he published from a chapter in "Going After Cacciato"?
  7. Ultimately, what "ruined" the story?
  8. What did Norman have to say about the story?
  9. How did O'Brien revise the story for The Things They Carried?
  10. Who was "in no way responsible" for Kiowa's death, according to O'Brien?

"In the Field"
  1. What is the platoon doing as the story opens?
  2. What was Lt. Jimmy Cross determined to do?
  3. Did Cross know who the young soldier was?
  4. How had Cross been trained to treat his men, and how did he prefer to treat them?
  5. What was Cross's opinion of Kiowa?
  6. What does Cross begin doing in his head?
  7. Who are the three soldiers who are searching for Kiowa's body?
  8. Which one is angry at Lieutenant Cross?
  9. Which one feels it's no one's fault?
  10. Which one is cracking stupid jokes about irony?
  11. How did Lt. Cross feel about being a soldier?
  12. Who came to Lt. Cross during the night and what did he say?
  13. When Cross notices the young soldier again, what does he realize is significant about the boy's movements?
  14. What were Kiowa and the boy doing just before the attack started?
  15. What does the boy believe about his role in Kiowa's death?
  16. What did the boy try to do when he saw Kiowa in the mud?
  17. On page 170, who couldn't the young, unnamed soldier be?
  18. What is your guess as to the identity of the boy?
  19. What is the young soldier actually looking for?
  20. Who found Kiowa's body?
  21. How many men tried to pull his body out?
  22. What did the soldiers feel besides feeling bad for Kiowa?
  23. What does Azar say to Norman Bowker about his jokes?
  24. What does Norman say about whose fault it was?
  25. On page 177, Cross lists everything one could blame for Kiowa's death. But in the field, what must one conclude about the causes?
  26. Where does Lt. Cross imagine himself?
  27. Do you think he writes the letter to Kiowa's father or not?

"Good Form"
  1. Explain the difference between "story-truth" and "happening-truth."
  2. According to O'Brien, which one is "truer"?
  3. What can stories do?

"Field Trip"
  1. What was Tim looking for at the site of Kiowa's death?
  2. What is as remote to Kathleen as "cavemen and dinosaurs"?
  3. What had the "little field" swallowed?
  4. What had the field embodied for Tim, for the last 20 years?
  5. What did Tim bring to the field to leave behind?
  6. What is the change brought about in Tim by his action in the river?
  7. Who might Kathleen symbolize?

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