The Things They Carried: the Paintings

In 2010 and again in 2011, New York based artist Steve Mumford was embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. He documented his time with the troops through a series of paintings, which were later published in Harper’s Magazine.

FIRST, Click the image below to view all the paintings published in Harper’s.The Things They Carry Mumford

Learn about what inspired Mumford’s paintings by clicking here. You can also view more of Steve Mumford’s “Baghdad Journals”―a collection of sketches and paintings from his time in Baghdad―by clicking here.

SECOND, read this Daily Beast article in which Steve Mumford discusses his experience being embedded with the soldiers.

THIRD, below are other galleries featuring artists whose work also explore the nature of war and wartime. Browse through the galleries.

ANSWER / REFLECT (notebook is fine):

  1. Which Mumford painting is your favorite? Why?
  2. What do the Mumford paintings (a particular favorite or all of them) convey about war? How do they compare with reading war literature like The Things They Carried? In other words, how does the medium (painting) affect or inform the purpose?
  3. Why do you think Mumford would use O’Brien’s novel as the title for his series?
  4. Comment on the ways in which other artists depict war through art (additional galleries).


TTTC: Rhetorical Analysis Essay


Choose a significant passage from the novel and write a rhetorical analysis.

FIRST, choose a passage. When choosing a passage, consider the following:

  • Think about the “big ideas” discussed in class―storytelling, memories, coping, life and death, and love, among others. Consider choosing one of the passages discussed in class on one of the big sticky posters (see the gallery of sticky posters from class below).
  • Speaking of sticky notes… review the post-it note reflections you completed in your initial reading of the book.
  • Review your reflections from our Socratic Seminars. Did a particular passage stand out to you?
  • Consider length, choosing a passage that is neither too long nor too short. Be sure that your passage is long enough to write a substantial analysis, but not so long that your analysis becomes overwhelming. If you are unsure about a passage, run it by me in class.
  • Last, but not least… choose a passage that speaks to you. Chances are, you’ll be in a better position to write about the passage because it stood out to you while you were (re)reading.
  • IMPORTANT: You may NOT choose a passage from the title story, “The Things They Carried.” You may also not choose the passage on pages 76-77 that begins with “How do you generalize?” and ends with “the truth is ugly.”

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SECOND, after choosing a passage, photocopy the excerpt. Then annotate the excerpt thoroughly. You’ll bring this to class for review on Monday, 11/23, and then turn this in with your final essay on Wednesday, 12/2.

THIRD, begin drafting/writing/revising your rhetorical analysis. Your final rhetorical analysis essay should be about two pages in length (between 400-600ish words). Some tips:

  • Review your photocopied annotation.
  • Review the steps to writing a rhetorical analysis and rhetorical precis (see Quick Links).
  • Review the sample rhetorical analyses from class.
  • Consult your lists: powerful verbs, tone words (see Quick Links).
  • Think RLW (“How to Read Like a Writer”), especially the reminder below:


Screenshot 2015-11-21 at 7.59.01 PM

MONDAY, 11/23: Bring completed annotations to class for review.
WEDNESDAY, 12/2 THURSDAY, 12/3: Turn in annotations and your essay together (do not staple).

TTTC: Write-Like Tim O’Brien

In “How to Read Like a Writer,” Mike Bunn points out that when you read like a writer, “you examine the things you read, looking at the writerly techniques in the text in order to decide if you might want to adopt similar (or the same) techniques in your writing” (72).

Let’s look at Tim O’Brien’s story, “The Things They Carried,” as inspiration for our own writing. To that end, think about the techniques O’Brien uses in that particular short story to convey the various things that the soldiers carry. Also keep in mind the diverse types of things the soldiers carry: individual/group, objective/subjective, concrete/abstract, mundane/extraordinary.

Using “The Things They Carried” as your model, write-like Tim O’Brien. In a “write-alike,” you will borrow O’Brien’s diction (though not his specific words) and syntax. Try to mimic O’Brien’s style. However, instead of writing about what soldiers carry, you will write about a subject a little closer to your own experience―being a student.

Write-like O’Brien for about 250-300ish words. Use the “backpack” activity from class to help you compose your piece.

ALTERNATIVE: As I mentioned in class,  if you would like to “play” with this assignment a bit more and use a different group of people (for example, artists) and a different verb than carry (for example, draw), feel free to take the weekend to work on this exercise.


TTTC: Socratic Circles (Part 3: After)

After the class discussion takes place, you’ll reflect on how the discussion went from your point-of-view, whether you were in the circle or out.

Type a one-page reflection that answers the questions below. Please answer in a brief paragraph for each, labeling each response by the corresponding number. You may single-space your response (with a double-space between each question).

  1. What did you find interesting? Include specific ideas that stood out from the discussion to you and why. Be specific, citing whose idea it was, and explain your reasoning. How did this discussion deepen your understanding of the story?
  2. What questions do you have? Include specific questions, ideas, issues, concerns that you are still struggling with and why  this is still an issue for you.
  3. How did the discussion go? 
    • Inner Circle: Evaluate your personal, overall participation: how prepared were you? What were your strengths during discussion? Areas of improvement? Be specific.
    • Outer Circle: How do you think the inner circle did? What were the strengths of their discussion? What points were developed well; conversely, what points were dropped? Be specific.


For your reference, below is an archive of the backchannel discussions, beginning with Day 2’s discussion (sorry, Day 1 – I didn’t think to do this for you):

TTTC: Socratic Circles (Part 2: During)

Discussion EtiquetteParticipating in an active discussion—especially with the eyes and ears of your peers around you—can be an intimidating prospect. Remember that effective discussion requires both talking and listening. As a friendly reminder, some etiquette tips for discussion are provided to the right.

When you are in the inner circle, consider using the following stems, which can help move discussion in positive, productive directions.

Sentence Stems for Higher Level Discussions Vertical

If you are in the outside circle, participate as if you were in the inner circle, just without talking. For example, if the inner circle is looking at a passage, open your book to the same passage and follow along. In addition, take notes on how the discussion is going: how is the discussion progressing, what points stand out to you, which points are developed/not developed, etc. Take active notes; you will need these to complete your reflection that night.

BYOD Tech Option! If you have a question for the inner circle about the content of their discussion, pose your question on the “backchannel” provided via to have your question addressed by the group.

1. Go to
2. Click on Student Login.
3. Enter 983226 as the classroom ID.
4. Post your question.

The Things They Carried: Socratic Circles (Part 1: Before)

As part of our discussion of O’Brien’s novel, we will zoom in on three short stories as well as the take a “whole view” analysis of the novel. Each student will sign up (or be assigned) a short story discussion group. On your discussion day, you’ll gather (for the first time) as a group to discuss the story while the rest of the class listens, observes, and takes notes.

To prepare for your discussion, review your short story in greater detail. Consider this your “second draft” reading. As you reread the story, think about what you see now that you didn’t see before (eye doctor analogy).

Specifically, come to class on your discussion day with notes on the following (they will be extremely helpful during discussion):

  • What did you notice in the reading, both when you first read and upon rereading?
  • What patterns or motifs have you observed?
  • What can you say about the writing in this particular story? POV? Diction? Syntax? Details? Repetition?
  • How does this story relate to others?
  • Support all of the above with specific passages and quotations from the text (you should direct the group to specific passages and reread as needed during your discussion).
  • Generate your own list of questions about this story.

You will not know when your discussion is taking place, so come to class ready to go each day. You may want to review Part 2 in this series (above) for what to do during discussion.

After each discussion day, you must turn in a reflection and notes on the discussion (see Part 3 above).

UPDATE: Sarah B., if you are reading this, you have been assigned the story “On the Rainy River.”