Reading The Things They Carried

Yay! A novel! 🙂

You’ll need a few things for your reading of Tim O’Brien’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Things They Carried. Be sure you have the following supplies each day in class:

  • A copy of the novel
  • A minimum of six post-it notes (large 4 x 6 size, available in class)
  • Pen or pencil
  • Your time & attention
  • A sense of curiosity

As you read* The Things They Carried, note O’Brien’s thoughtful and precise use of language. I am always—always—amazed each time I read this novel. Many of his sentences are breathtaking. Revel in this reading experience. Immerse yourself in the prose. Pay attention to when a particular passage strikes you.

Take notes on a minimum of six passages that stand out to you for their descriptions of people, places, or things. Remember that “things” can be concrete (the soil or land) as well as abstract (shame or love). Make sure you choose passages that span the breadth of the novel (i.e. do not choose six passages from the same chapters). You may choose any combination of descriptions―3 places, 2 people, 1 thing or 4 things, 1 place, 1 person―as long as you have one of each. You may find yourself wanting to note more than six descriptions (that’s how good O’Brien’s writing is). Feel free; six is only a minimum.

Choose six meaningful passages. Think about that word―meaningful. The passage should be full of meaning.

Note the passage by marking it in the book with the post-it note. On the post-it, answer / reflect on  the following for each passage:

  1. WHAT is being described—a person, place, or thing? Identify. For example, Jimmy’s love for Martha is an abstract thing. Or it could be about Jimmy, a person, depending on the passage.
  2. WHY is this description here? What is its purpose? What is O’Brien trying to convey in this description? Why is this in the novel? 
  3. HOW is the purpose achieved? What strategies—think diction, syntax, imagery, juxtaposition, imagery, repetition, etc.—does O’Brien use to achieve this purpose? What makes this description effective, both in the immediate context as well as in the novel as a whole?

Finish reading and come to class with your completed notes by MONDAY, 11/2 (a.k.a. the day Mrs. Ebarvia returns!).

Be prepared to discuss “fishbowl” style or in Socratic circles. Your notes will be extremely helpful.

In addition, you will be given a multiple choice quiz to verify you’ve read the novel. If you read diligently and carefully, you should be fine.

* You may find it helpful to mark the passages first and then write responses later. That way, you can just enjoy the novel and then go back to write on the post-its now that you have a “bigger picture” view of the novel upon finishing.


NOTE: There is no Weekly Annotated Reading due on 10/26 but there is a WAR due on 11/2 (the day Mrs. Ebarvia returns). If you need a break from reading TTTC for a day or finish early, you may use the time in class to grab a laptop and work on your WAR for 11/2.

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