Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Things They Carried - Second Set of Prompts (1/25)

For Thursday, please respond to one of the following two prompts:

1.      Choose three statements about stories and/or storytelling from “How to Tell a True War Story” and then point to specific examples from the book (you may take the examples from any of the chapters we have read so far) where O’Brien illustrates these principles in his own storytelling.

2.     As you will have noticed, some of the sections in this book are longer than others. Just like a long paragraph on a page or an abnormally long line in a poem draw attention to themselves, so do the longer chapters of this book. From a practical point of view, we spend more time in these sections, so there is more emotional interaction. “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” is the longest section in the book. How does it compare to the other sections? What is its unique contribution to the book? Is Mary Anne’s experience a metaphor of some kind? A juxtaposition of incongruent worlds? A comment on gender? I’m not looking for a specific response. Just tell me what the story means to you and the reasons you think O’Brien includes it/devotes so many pages to it. Be specific and use examples.

See you on Thursday.

1 comment:

  1. “You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end (72)” holds truth in O’Brian’s writing and storytelling. For example, in the chapter entitled “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” Mark Fossie’s girlfriend, Mary Anne, shows up to much of the men’s surprise. Initially, she acts young and sophomoric but as time in the war zone progresses, she becomes hard and aloof. When she becomes attached to the Greenies, her story turns. Instead of being Forrie’s perfect and devoted girlfriend, Mary Anne begins to play a terrifying role. At one point, Mark Fossie finds her and she has on a “necklace of human tongues. Elongated and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire, one tongue overlapping the next, tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable” (105-106). Obviously, the blonde-headed, giggling girl that Mark Fossie has brought from home is gone. A twisted savage has taken her place. At the end of the chapter, the reader finds that she has vanished from sight. This story, told by Rat Kiley, seems to catch the appeal of the listeners quickly; however, the story has many interesting twists and surprises that it seems to go on forever. The story in itself is like the character Mary Anne. Both initially took the audience by surprise and filled them with excitement. However, both Mary Anne and the story never seemed to end. Mary Anne never died; she stays hidden but continues to lurk in the shadows. The story never truly ends in that the audience is filled with fear and anxiety at the end, terrified that Mary Anne would come back.
    Like O’Brian’s statement that a true war story “never seems to end” the statement “a true war story is never moral” (65) also is true in the novel. For example, when Rat Kiley shoots the baby water buffalo, he has no purpose. He also does not quickly kill the water buffalo. He first “stroked its nose” and then “shot it through the right front knee…and shot off an ear. He shot it in the hindquarters and in the little hump at its back” (75). Kiley, angry at his dead friend’s sister, aims all of his angry at the water buffalo. His act “wasn’t to kill; it was to hurt” (75). This story has no moral. It does not “encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior” (65). O’Brian tells this story to tell people of the love between Rat Kiley and the intense pressure and anguish that a war zone creates.
    Similar to O’Brian’s comments about true war stories, the comment “a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight” (81), is evident also in the book. For example, in the chapter entitled “Spin,” the reader understands that although “war is hell” (74), the soldiers find comfort and “sunlight” in each other. They find laughter in the game of Ping Pong and they find enjoyment and serenity in jokes about Lavender’s “tranquilizers” moments. The soldiers find happiness in incredibly small moments, like looking up at the stars at night and making wishes with each other.
    O’Brian writes of what a true war story contains. He writes that it must never end, that it must never be moral, and that it must never be about war. Although these comments are strange, they hold significant truth in the novel because of the detailed examples and experiences O’Brian gives.