Fall 2007 Selection
CSUN Freshman Common Reading Program

The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien

Teaching Resources prepared by Amy Reynolds, Instructor, CSUN English Department


I make no particular claim to expertise on O'Brien's novel, other than that I've been teaching it from the perspective of a teacher of English composition (not literature) since the Iraq War began. At that time I expected to use the book a semester or two at most; as long as the war continued, I felt we owed it to the soldiers and Marines to try to understand what life might be like for them. "A different time, a different war," I thought, back in the Fall of 2003. "But interesting to read nevertheless." As time passed, however, a couple of things happened.  First, I fell to the power of the text, slayed, if you will, by O'Brien's beautiful prose and his insistence that the book is not about war, but about love, and really, about writing and the power of the story. As I tell my students all the time, "We are a story-telling people."  I came to love the book. And second, the war went on and on and on, and the differences between the two wars, 30-odd years apart, blurred. When a country goes to war, its people must pay attention to "certain blood ...shed for uncertain reasons."  .

So, I've developed this stack of materials that seem to work, prepared for students of writing, not of literature, although I invite you to be the judge as to their value for either enterprise. Note that these materials have been used with students of Developmental Writing, but can easily be adapted, or used outright, for students at other levels of writing expertise. Feel free to change, adapt, improve on these as you desire (though I'd appreciate your letting me know so I can take advantage of your brilliance).  I suppose I'd like to hear about typos and the like as well. Email me with your questions, comments, to lend help or get help at amy.reynolds@csun.edu.

Arlington West photograph by Amy Reynolds
Arlington West, Santa Monica, California,  Winter 2004       Photo by Amy Reynolds

Suggested Sequence of Readings, Journal Entries, and Thematic Notes

Study Guides for The Things They Carried:
"The Things They Carried," "Love," "Spin," "On the Rainy River"
"Enemies," "Friends," "How to Tell a True War Story"
"The Dentist," "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," "Stockings," "Church"
"The Man I Killed" Story Cycle
"Speaking of Courage" Story Cycle
"Ghost Soldiers," "Nightlife," "Lives of the Dead."

Essay Assignments
Developmental Writing Essay Assignment with Topics
Developmental Writing Essay Assignment with open topic

Literature Circle Materials
Schedule & Role Sheets for Students
Explanations & Notes for Teachers

O'Brien and Burke's Pentad Pre-Writing Activity

Henrico County Schools, Virginia, Reader's Theatre Activity (with script)

Selected Critical Articles on The Things They Carried