Although the setting and the events described in “The Things They Carried” are dramatic and moving, its tone is often flat and emotionless. How is this tone created? Why do you think the narrator adopts this tone?
2. Consider the different meanings of the word carry, which can refer to burdens abstract or concrete as well as to things carried physically or emotionally, actively or passively. Give one or two examples of each of the different senses in which O’Brien uses the word. How does his repeated use of the word enhance the story?
3. A striking characteristic of the story’s style is its thorough catalogs of the concrete, tangible “things” the soldiers carry. Why do you suppose such detailed lists are included? What does what each man carries tell you about him? In a less literal, more abstract sense, what else do these men “carry”?
4. One stylistic technique O’Brien uses is intentional repetition—of phrases (“they carried”); people’s names and identifying details and pieces of equipment. What effect do you think O’Brien hopes to achieve through such repetition? Is he successful?
5. Interspersed among long paragraphs crammed with detail are short one- or two-sentence paragraphs. What function do these brief paragraphs serve?
6. What role does Martha play in the story? Why does Lieutenant Cross burn her letters?
7. In paragraph 68, the narrator says of the soldiers, “They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness.” What do you think he means by this? Do you think this “hard vocabulary” is necessary? How does it affect your reaction to the characters?
8. Describing Lieutenant Cross’s new sense of purpose in the story’s final paragraph, the narrator uses the phrase “Carry on.” Do you think this phrase is linked in any way to the story’s other uses of the word carry, or do you believe it is unrelated? Explain.