Thursday, January 20, 2011

Prompt for The Things They Carried (posted on 1/20)

For Tuesday, please respond to one of the following prompts, and please come prepared to discuss all of them:

1. Discuss O'Brien's writing style. How is the way the book is written related to what it says. In other words, how are form and content related? Use specific examples.

2. Discuss O'Brien's use of symbolism. Choose three things that you think function symbolically and discuss what it is that they are symbolic of.

3. Near the top of page 24, after Jimmy Cross burns the letters from Martha, we read this sentence: “He understood.” What does Jimmy Cross understand at this point? Interpret this sentence.

4. Why do you think Kiowa needs to keep telling the story of Lavender’s death?

5. When we get to “Love” on page 26, there is a distinct shift in the point of view of the narrative. Discuss what it is that changes at this point and the effect those changes have on you as a reader.

6. Interpret the paragraph of "Spin" (page 36), the one that begins, "Forty-three years old..."

I'm looking forward to reading your responses. As I mentioned in class today, you don't need to follow these exactly. The prompts are meant to help you, not constrict you. If you have something else you want to write about, that's fine with me.


  1. Though Jimmy Cross is in love with Martha, he realizes that she will never love him back. Though they have corresponded through letters, she has never written of her affections towards him, although he loves her. In war, he constantly has images of her and him together on the beach. He remembers telling her once that after a date one time, he was tempted to asking her back to his room. However, "Martha shut her eyes. She crossed her arms at her chest, as if suddenly cold, rocking slightly, then after a time she looked at him and said she was glad he hadn't tried it" (28). This memory shows that Martha doesn't and will never love him in return.
    In the beginning of his tour of duty, he daydreams and fantasizes about her. However, in a tragic occurrence, Ted Lavender, a soldier in his unit, dies and Jimmy blames himself for not being totally alert and focused, but rather distracted by thoughts of Martha at the Jersey shore.
    Jimmy accepts “the blame for what happened to Ted Lavender” (24). He knows that he was unfocused, and because of this, disaster happened. Jimmy understands that as a leader, he cannot fall prey to thoughts of Martha. Though he loves her deeply, he understands that she does not love him in return and to pass the time thinking about her will only cause the unit more tragedy.
    Jimmy burns the letters from her to signify the death of her memory in war. However, his burning of the letters also is a symbol of their concrete and loveless relationship. Jimmy understands her unrequited love and he also understands that her memory causes him to not perform successfully. He understands that Martha needs to be out of the war as well as out of his life.

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