Who’s ready for a discussion of the first half (or so) of our book, through “How to Tell a True War Story”?
The Things They Carried is a compilation of war “stories” and remembrances that reads as a novel, told in the literal sense. Rife with visceral realities, O’Brien succeeds in conveying not the successes or failures of war, but rather the reality of living the war on boys who are given the responsibilities of men.
In the title essay/story“The Things They Carried,” are the tangible or intangible things more burdensome to carry? What does O'Brien mean when he says, "They carried their principles in their feet"?
What’s a true war story? Is it about battles and lives won and lost; or the tedium of being at war; or the effects of anxious boredom? How is a true war story “never about war”? How is a true war story “never moral”?
Culturally speaking, the Vietnam War did not produce “war heroes.” It’s a controversial statement, and I don’t aim to argue that some of the men who enlisted or were drafted and went to Vietnam were not heroes; but it is known that when they returned home they were largely not given a “hero’s welcome,” and this, coupled with fighting an ambiguous, unwinnable war, has impeded veterans’ ability to heal psychologically. In “On Rainy River,” O’Brien was paradoxically a coward if he chose to flee to Canada and a coward for not and ultimately fighting a war he was against. Let’s talk about why Elroy Berdahl was a hero and O’Brien was a coward.