Publisher's Note:  

A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

The Things They Carried

by Tim O'Brien

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Overall Review:  

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is viewed by some as a contemporary classic; once a staple of college reading, it is now finding its way onto high school literature lists.  In many ways it has all those traits that lit teachers love--literary devices, confusing non-linear events, and abundant ambiguity that allows hours of discussion/speculation about possible symbolism and deeper meanings. 


The author doesn't stay in the background of the story, but instead devotes asides to explaining the role of story-telling--how to tell the truth of events one must fictionalize them.  He indicates that many of the characters are real and some of the events, but it is unclear as to when something is a story and when something was an actual event.  To the author, this is not an important distinction.  As a reader, this didn't work for me.  Fictionalized fact?  Factualized fiction?  In general, I have never been a fan of mashed together fiction and non-fiction; I prefer my non-fiction straight-up.   This book felt like a hodge-podge of a lot of things.


Since the subject matter of the book is the Vietnam War, it is obviously a dark, grim, and gritty read and I found it a chore to complete, requiring several weeks to get through a relatively short book.  Unlike some required reading my sons have had, they actually said they liked the book because it was a war story.  While it does indeed, sadly, probably capture the spirit of the Vietnam experience, I cannot say I am glad I read it.

Content Analysis:  

Profanity/Language:  25 religious exclamations; 17 mild obscenities; 9 religious profanities; 17 derogatory names; 47 scatological words; 15 anatomical terms; 33 f-word derivatives.


Violence/Gore:  (Including, but not limited to the following) Description of being shot; firefight resulting in death with extended graphic description of body; report of death by drowning; village is burned and dead bodies are present; character commits suicide by hanging; report of death by illness; reference to bodies of the dead with some description; detailed description (~1 page) of dead body; character creates a tongue necklace; character kills another with grenade, some description; reference to amputations; brief description of removing human body parts from tree after death of soldier by explosion; multiple reports of shooting deaths, some with details; soldiers cut thumb off corpse of enemy, teenage soldier and kick head of corpse; brief scene in which village is burnt and all the animals are slaughtered; soldiers kill fish with grenades; report of self-inflicted shooting to be released from duty; multiple reference to the handling of dead bodies; soldiers strap a puppy to a mine and purposefully blow it up; ~1 page description of working at meat-packing plant with details of blood & gore; soldiers have fist fight resulting in severe injuries; character purposefully breaks nose with pistol; brief description of losing leg on mortar round with details and blood--injury eventually results in death; disturbing, graphic scene (~1 pg) in which a soldier repeatedly shoots a baby water buffalo in a torturous manner; imaginations and delusions of death; character shot in head; story about soldiers shaking the hand of an old man's corpse.


Sex/Nudity:  Sexual references such as wondering if someone is a virgin, "strapping down" a male part, story about someone running about naked; character fantasizes about carrying a female upstairs and tying to a bed; character carries condoms in pack; report of a guy "shackin up" with someone; character says he has slept with girls; report of characters "sleeping together".

Mature Subject Matter:  

Vietnam War, death, suicide, torture.

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Soldiers smoke and drink; soldiers carried drugs, used tranquilizers, smoked dope; morphine used.

Reviewed By Cindy
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