The Things They Carried

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The Things They Carried Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tim O'Brien
Tim O'Brien moved with his family to Worthington, Minnesota when he was twelve, a place which has served as the setting in many of his stories in The Things They Carried as well as his other works. He got his BA from Macalester College in Political Science in 1968. In 1968 he was drafted by the Army and sent to Vietnam, where he served from 1968 to 1970. When he returned from the war, he went to graduate school at Harvard University. In 1973, he published his first book, a memoir entitled: If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. In 1979, O'Brien won the National Book Award for his novel Going After Cacciato, but he is perhaps best known for his collection of semi-autobiographical stories The Things They Carried. He has written many additional novels, many focused around the Vietnam war and its aftermath upon those who served in it.
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Historical Context of The Things They Carried
O'Brien ardently tries to separate his storytelling from political commentary in interviews, but all of his works to date intimately deal with war: experiences of war before, during, and after the actual fighting. The entirety of The Things They Carried is a depiction of experiences from the Vietnam War. United States intervention in the regional conflict was an effort to prevent South Vietnam from being overtaken by communist leaders, but objectives were often not entirely clear and were particularly opaque to the soldiers in the middle of the fighting. The war led to intense debates and unrest in the United States, and produced a generation of veterans who were impacted by the war in many different ways, but all of them profoundly.
Other Books Related to The Things They Carried
As a war novel written by a former soldier, The Things They Carried shares a great deal with other war novels of similar authorship. In 1929 the novel All Quiet on the Western Front or, Im Westen nichts Neues, by Erich Marla Remarque was published in Germany. Remarque was a veteran of World War I, and the book chronicles the extreme anguish, both mentally and physically, most soldiers experienced during the war. It also explored the pervasive sense of alienation that soldiers felt from the society that sent them to war, and their inability to ever really return home. In just its first eighteen months in print, it sold 2.5 million copies in twenty-five different languages. Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls similarly explore chaotic war experiences and the way that war has a lifelong alienating effect on soldiers. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (1969) uses a similar disjointed narrative as many of the stories in The Things They Carried to capture and portray the chaos of war.
Key Facts about The Things They Carried
  • Full Title: The Things They Carried
  • When Written: 1980s
  • Where Written: The United States
  • When Published: 1990
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: War Novel
  • Setting: Vietnam; Minnesota; central Iowa
Extra Credit for The Things They Carried

Film Adaptation. "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" was made into a movie in 1998. It was titled A Soldier's Sweetheart and starred Kiefer Sutherland.