The Things They Carried Discussion Questions

  1. In the opening chapter, the narrator writes that his fellow soldiers “carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing.” When most people think about what soldiers fear most, do you think they would say it’s this particular fear?
  2. In the last two sentences of “On the Rainy River,” the narrator writes, “I was a coward. I went to the war.” What does this story have to say about choices and consequences?
  3. In the second section of “On the Rainy River,” the narrator describes in vivid detail his job as a declotter in a meatpacking plant. How are the images he uses in describing this job similar to the images he uses to characterize fighting in Vietnam? What effect or idea does the book convey with this related imagery?
  4. In “On the Rainy River,” the narrator claims that Elroy Berdahl was “the hero of my life.” Discuss this characterization.
  5. About halfway through “On the Rainy River,” the narrator begins referring to the reader as you. Consider, for example, the repeated references and questions to you on page 56. What effect does this sudden occurrence of direct address have on the reader?
  6. Explain the narrator’s definition of “a true war story,” as explained in “How to Tell a True War Story.” What does he mean when he says that true war stories are never about war? What does he mean when he writes of one story, “That’s a true story that never happened”?
  7. In “The Man I Killed,” the narrator repeatedly describes details about the victim. What point do you think the book makes in this chapter and elsewhere about the humanity of the casualties?
  8. In “Speaking of Courage,” the narrator describes the experiences of Norman Bowker after he returned from fighting in Vietnam. What points do this chapter and the remainder of the book make about veterans’ lives after the war?
  9. The Things They Carried has several different accounts of a single event, Kiowa’s death. How does this relate to memory, storytelling and truth?
  10. How is the story of Linda, the little girl, in the final chapter, “The Lives of the Dead,” related to themes and issues raised earlier in the book?

Content last updated: October 31, 2003

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