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The American Place Theatre's Literature to Life® production of

by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried

Performed by Dashiell Eaves Directed by Wynn Handman

Welcome to Keynotes, a performance guide created by the Education Department of the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. These Keynotes are designed to be used before and after attending The American Place Theatre's Literature to Life performance of The Things They Carried. Here's what you'll find inside these Keynotes: About the Performance The Story Vietnam in Perspective Timeline: The Vietnam War Glossary Thoughts on War Meet Tim O'Brien Extension Activities Audience/Resources 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

About the Performance

The show you will see, The Things They Carried, is a dramatization of Tim O'Brien's novel of the same name. The words spoken by actor Dashiell Eaves come directly from the book; though some of the text has been cut or rearranged, nothing has been added that does not appear in the book. The performance takes place on a stage that is bare of scenery and props. Music, played by a double bass, is heard in the background at various times during the show. Otherwise, it's just the actor, the script, and the audience's imagination that bring the story to life. The Things They Carried tells one man's experiences before The Vietnam War and during the Vietnam War, from (1959-75) was the 1968 to 1970. This was a war that longest war in U.S. deeply divided our nation and history. continues to cast a shadow over the way we look at war today. Though the story comes from the past, the issues and ideas it presents could not be more relevant in the present day.

If you were hired to turn The Things They Carried into a stage play or movie, how would you decide to adapt it? The book is narrated by a single person. Would you write in any additional characters? If so, how would you go about creating dialogue for them? Would you add any scenes that are not in the book? Leave anything out? Why?


Dashiell Eaves portrays Tim O'Brien, the narrator of The Things They Carried.

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Take a look at the cover of The Things They Carried at your local library or online. (There have been several different covers, including the one at left.) Is there a picture or an image on the cover? What do these images mean to you? Do these images make you want to read the book or give you an idea of what it is about? Why did Tim O'Brien choose this title? Does it give you insight into the story? What other words or phrases are on the cover? Create a poster or book cover for The Things They Carried. You can cut images out of magazines and newspapers or draw them. What words and images did you include and why?

The Story

"No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic." --Richard Nixon

The following excerpt from the novel establishes the feelings and situation of the play's lone character, Tim O'Brien:


In June of 1968, a month after graduating from Macalester College, I was drafted to fight a war I hated. I was twenty-one years old. Young, yes, and politically naïve, but even so the American war in Vietnam seemed to me wrong. Certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons. I saw no unity of purpose, no consensus on A total of 58,169 matters of philosophy or history or law. The very facts were U.S. forces were shrouded in uncertainty: Was it a civil war? A war of national killed in action liberation or simple aggression? Who started it, and when, and why? What really happened to the USS Maddox on that dark during the Vietnam night in the Gulf of Tonkin? Was Ho Chi Minh a Communist War. The average stooge, or a nationalist savior, or both, or neither? What about age of those killed the Geneva Accords? What about the Cold War? What about was 23. dominoes? America was divided on these and a thousand other issues, and the debate had spilled out across the floor of the United States Senate and into the streets, and smart men in pinstripes could not agree on even the most fundamental matters of public policy. The only certainty that summer was moral confusion. At some point in mid-July I began thinking seriously about Canada. The border lay a few hundred miles north, an eight-hour drive. Both my conscience and my instincts were telling me to make a break for it, just take off and run like hell and never stop. In the beginning the idea seemed purely abstract, the word Canada printing itself out in my head; of my own future--a hotel room in Many Americans felt that the U.S. Winnipeg, a battered old suitcase, my father's eyes as I tried to explain myself over the telephone. I could almost hear his voice, and my mother's. Run, I'd should not have become involved in think. Then I'd think, Impossible. Then a second later I'd think, Run. Vietnam and were deeply troubled by It all seemed crazy and impossible. Twenty-one years old, an ordinary kid the way we conducted the war. The with all the ordinary dreams and ambitions, and all I wanted was to live the life young men called to serve in the I was born to--a mainstream life--I loved baseball and hamburgers and cherry military during this time had to make a Cokes--and now I was off on the margins of exile, leaving my country forever, difficult choice: do their military and it seemed so impossible and terrible and sad. service, find a legal way to avoid All those eyes on me--the town, the whole universe--and I couldn't risk active duty, refuse to serve and be the embarrassment. It was as if there were an audience to my life, that swirl of sent to prison, or run away to a faces along the river, and in my head I could hear people screaming at me. foreign country, most often Canada. Traitor! They yelled. I couldn't tolerate it. I couldn't endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule. Even in my imagination, the shore just Is running away ever a good way to twenty yards away, I couldn't make myself be brave. It had nothing to do with solve a problem? What are other morality. Embarrassment, that's all it was. methods people can use to face a And right then I submitted. difficult situation? What does war I would go to the war--I would kill and maybe die--because I was mean to Tim O'Brien? What does it embarrassed not to.

To Fight or Not?

mean to you?

Vietnam in Perspective


Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia that borders China, Laos, Cambodia, and the South China Sea. In size it is slightly larger than New Mexico. The country is made up of hills and densely-forested mountains, and the climate is tropical; humidity averages 84 percent throughout the year, and monsoons are a regular part of the weather cycle.



North Vietnam



Gulf of Tonkin


Throughout its history Vietnam has been subjected to foreign domination, beginning as far back as 207 BC when it was conquered by China. More than a thousand years Thailand passed before the Vietnamese overthrew the Chinese and gained their independence. The country remained independent until the middle of the 19th century, when it was was colonized by France. During World War II, Vietnam was briefly held by the Japanese. When the war ended, the country became a battleground for the larger global struggle known as the Cold War--the conflict between democracy (represented by the U.S. and its allies) and Communism (represented by The Vietnamese are the Soviet Union and its allies).

South China Sea


South Vietnam


The Vietnam War

In 1954, the French were expelled from Vietnam following a hundred years of colonial rule. This created a power vacuum in the region, setting the stage for conflict. In an attempt to avoid war, the country was temporarily divided into North and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was controlled by the Vietnamese Communists who had opposed France and who wanted to unify Vietnam under Communist rule. The South was controlled by Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French. The Vietnam War began as a civil war. In 1959 rebels in South Vietnam (known as Viet Cong), aided by North Vietnam, struck against the corrupt and authoritarian South Vietnamese government. Determined to halt the spread of Communism, the U.S. threw its support behind the South Vietnamese. Ultimately, the U.S. failed to achieve its goal. In 1975 Vietnam was reunified under Communist control; in 1976 it officially became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. During the conflict, approximately 3 to 4 million Vietnamese on both sides were killed, in addition to another 1.5 to 2 million Lao and Cambodians who were drawn into the war.

the largest group of Southeast Asian refugees to have settled in the U.S. With their American-born children, they number about 995,000.

Cold War Conflicts

Vietnam was not the only country where the U.S. took action to prevent the spread of Communism. From the list below, select one of the Cold War conflicts to research. How did it get started? Who were the participants? What was the role of the American government? What was the outcome? Share your findings with the rest of the class. · · · · · · Korean War Hungarian Revolution Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis Afghan War Military coup in Iran (1953) Civil wars in Nicaragua, Angola, and El Salvador

Timeline: The Vietnam War


Communist activist Ho Chi Minh secretly returns to Vietnam after 30 years in exile and organizes a nationalist organization known as the Viet Minh (Vietnam Independence League). After Japanese troops occupy Vietnam during World War II, the U.S. military intelligence agency, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) allies with Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh guerrillas to harass Japanese troops in the jungles and to help rescue downed American pilots. President Truman sends a 35-man military advisory group to aid the French, who are fighting to regain the colonial power they held in Vietnam before the war.


1950 1954


After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva Accords divide Vietnam into northern and southern zones, with the Viet Minh and French withdrawing to either side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The country is to be reunified following internationally supervised free elections, but these never take place. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy send civilian advisers and, later, military personnel to train South Vietnamese.

President Nixon announces Vietnam peace offer and begins troop withdrawals. Ho Chi Minh, 79, North Vietnam president, dies and collective leadership chosen. Some 6,000 U.S. troops pulled back from Thailand and 1,000 marines from Vietnam.

1970 1971

U.S. troops invade Cambodia in order to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries. Congress bars use of combat troops, but not air power, in Laos and Cambodia. South Vietnamese troops, with U.S. air cover, fail in Laos thrust. Many American ground forces withdrawn from Vietnam combat. New York Times publishes the "Pentagon Papers," classified material on expansion of the war.

1960-63 1964

U.S. military advisers in South Vietnam rise from 900 to 15,000. North Vietnamese torpedo boats reportedly attack U.S. destroyers in Gulf of Tonkin. President Johnson orders retaliatory air strikes. Congress approves Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the President to take "all necessary measures" to win in Vietnam, allowing for the war's expansion.


President Nixon responds to North Vietnamese drive across DMZ by ordering mining of North Vietnam ports and heavy bombing of Hanoi-Haiphong area and orders "Christmas bombing" of North to get North Vietnamese back to conference table.



U.S. planes begin combat missions over South Vietnam. In June, 23,000 American advisers committed to combat. By the end of year there are over 184,000 U.S. troops in the region.

President orders halt to offensive operations in North Vietnam. Representatives of North and South Vietnam, U.S., and N.L.F. sign peace pacts in Paris, ending longest war in U.S. history. Last American troops departed in their entirety.

1966 1967 1968

B-52s bomb the DMZ, which the North Vietnamese have reportedly been using for entry into the South. South Vietnam National Assembly approves the election of Nguyen Van Thieu as president. U.S. has almost 525,000 men in Vietnam. In the My Lai massacre, American soldiers kill 300 Vietnamese villagers. President Johnson orders a halt to the U.S. bombardment of North Vietnam. Saigon and the National Liberation Front (the main rebel organization fighting against South Vietnam) join U.S. and North Vietnam in Paris peace talks.

1974 1975

Both sides accuse each other of frequent violations of cease-fire agreement. Full-scale warfare resumes. South Vietnamese government surrenders to North Vietnam; U.S. Marine embassy guards and U.S. civilians and dependents are evacuated. More than 140,000 Vietnamese refugees (mainly South Vietnamese ex-military and government officials and others who had worked for the U.S.) leave by air and sea, many to settle in the U.S.

1976 Election of National Assembly paves the way for

reunification of North and South into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.


Described below are some people, places, and things mentioned in the play.

Bao Dai - the last Emperor of Vietnam. He abdicated in 1945 and spent most of the rest of his life in exile in France. Charlie Cong - nickname for a soldier of the National Front for the Liberation of Southern Vietnam, also known as the Viet Cong. This was the main rebel group fighting against the American-backed Republic of Vietnam during the war. Claymore - a highly destructive weapon that fires steel balls (shrapnel) Cold War - the struggle between the U.S. and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies that Claymore began in 1947 with the end of World War II and ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was called a "Cold War" because there was no direct armed conflict between the two superpowers. conscientious objector - someone who refuses to serve in the military because of religious or other personal beliefs deferment - an official postponement of military service. During the Vietnam War, a man could qualify for a deferment by being a student, having a medical condition, being the sole support of a family, or other reasons. Diem - Ngo Dinh Diem, a member of the Vietnamese Catholic minority who was supported by the U.S. and served as the first President of the Republic of Vietnam (1955­63) dominoes - a reference to the "Domino Theory" put forward by American President Dwight D. Ngo Dinh Diem Eisenhower in 1954. After the Communist Vietminh defeated the French, Eisenhower predicted that the fall of this first "domino" would lead to the spread of Communism throughout Southeast Asia. draft - required military service, also known as conscription. When the draft was in effect in the U.S., all males had to register with the Selective Service as soon as they were old enough for military service. Once registered, an individual would be issued a draft card, which he was required to carry at all times. Burning one's draft card was used as a form of protest against the Vietnam War.


Geneva Accords - a set of treaties drawn up in 1954 to restore peace in French Indochina and Korea. Under the accords, Vietnam was partitioned into northern and southern zones, to be reunified following free elections in 1956. The elections never took place, and the country was not reunited until 1975. Gulf of Tonkin - the northwest arm of the South China Sea, site of an alleged attack in 1964 on two U.S. destroyers. The resulting Gulf of Tonkin Resolution led to increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Hanoi - capital city of North Vietnam Ho Chi Minh - Vietnamese Communist and revolutionary who became Prime Minister (1946 1955) and President (1955 1969) of North Vietnam jingo - someone with extreme patriotic opinions who supports a pro-war foreign policy Kiwanis - a service organization Ho Chi Minh made up of business and professional people; the group is often associated with conservative, middle-class values. LBJ - Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the U.S. (1963-69). The Vietnam War expanded considerably during his presidency. paddy - an irrigated or flooded field where rice is grown pagoda - an Asian temple Lyndon Johnson USS Maddox and Turner Joy - the American destroyers that were supposedly fired upon by North Vietnamese gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 Westmoreland William Westmoreland, a U.S. Army General who commanded American military operations in the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1968


Thoughts on War

The War At Home

The war in Vietnam became the most unpopular war ever fought by the U.S. The images and opinions sent back home by journalists, along with the fact that young Americans were dying on foreign soil against an enemy that did not directly threaten the U.S., turned many Americans against the war. This opposition grew into an "movement" as more and more people voiced their disapproval. The first antiwar protesters were mainly college students. As the war continued and escalated, the number of protesters increased. A poll conducted in 1965 found 60 percent of Americans favoring military involvement in Vietnam; by 1967 polls began to show a majority opposed to the war; and by 1971 over 60 percent were opposed. Many Americans felt that using their right to free speech to publicly protest decisions made by their government was a positive demonstration of democracy at work. Other Americans, however, felt that the protesters were being unpatriotic by criticizing the country's leadership during a time of war. Differing attitudes about the war deeply divided the country. As the first American war to be televised, the Vietnam War permanently changed the way Americans look at going to war. Since that time, the power of the media and public distrust of government have grown significantly. More than a generation later, the war is still a recurring subject in literature, film, and political conversation.


What's YOUR Opinion?

· The antiwar movement resulted in over 100,000 Americans fleeing this country to avoid being drafted, and many others deserting from the armed forces. Both these actions were illegal (during wartime, desertion is punishable by execution). The people who ran away or deserted said that their actions were justified on moral grounds; they believed the conflict in Vietnam to be an unjust war. Do you agree that these were moral acts? Is it right for a citizen to break the law if he or she believes the law unjust? What responsibilities come with being a citizen? · President Nixon said, "We are the great peacekeeping nation in the world today because of our power." To what extent does military power help preserve peace? · Many Americans who fought in Vietnam (and many at home) felt the government had never made it sufficiently clear why we were there. How important is that to a successful war effort? · Should a democratic government, in time of war, be expected to "tell all" to its people? · The current war in Iraq--in particular its protests and our ongoing occupation--has drawn comparisons to what the United States went through during the Vietnam War. Do you think that there are similarities between the Vietnam War and the War in Iraq? What is the same? How are things different? Do you think that the United States had valid reasons to invade Iraq?

"The Iraq thing has the feel of a potential quagmire where we just get deeper and deeper and deeper involved, and when that happens it's harder and harder and harder to get out. There's also the similarity with the difficulty in finding the enemy. In Vietnam, we couldn't find the V.C., they were blended in with the population, and we're having the same problem in Iraq; you just can't find your enemy, because they blend in with the population." --Tim O'Brien

Meet Tim O'Brien

"The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way, memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head." --The Things They Carried


Born on October 1, 1946, author Tim O'Brien is a native of Worthington, Minnesota. He studied at Macalester College and graduated in 1968 with a degree in political science. Upon graduation, O'Brien received a draft notice calling him to fight in the Vietnam War. Although he was against the war, O'Brien reported for service and was sent to Vietnam as an infantry foot soldier. O'Brien's tour of duty lasted 14 months. Returning to the United States with a Purple Heart in 1970, O'Brien entered a Ph.D. program in government at Harvard University. During the time he was at Harvard, he spent two summers as a national affairs reporter for the Washington Post. In 1975, he published his first novel, Northern Lights. O'Brien left Harvard, without a degree, in 1976. "Instead of writing my dissertation," he says, "I was writing what I needed to write." In 1979, O'Brien received the National Book Award in fiction for Going After Cacciato. In the early 1980s, he began publishing stories in magazines. These stories formed the basis for his novel, The Things They Carried, written in 1990. The novel is told from the perspective of a narrator named "Tim O'Brien" who is "forty-three years old and a writer now." Other books by Tim O'Brien include If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, The Nuclear Age, and July, July. His two most recent novels, In the Lake of the Woods and Tomcat in Love, were national bestsellers. In the Lake of the Woods won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the society of American Historians and was selected as the best novel of 1994 by Time magazine.

In His Shoes

Tim O'Brien summarizes his decision to go to Vietnam in one simple sentence: "I was a coward, I went to the war." Soldiers who face combat are usually described as heroes, not cowards; what do you think O'Brien meant by this statement? Discuss with your classmates how he must have felt when he received his draft notice following his college graduation. Ask yourselves: · How would you feel if you were in O'Brien's shoes? Would you make the decision to fight or would you run away? · What factors would influence your decision? Would you ask anyone for help in making your decision? If so, who? · Do people still need to make these same kinds of decisions today? What are some examples? Try having a classmate role-play as Tim O'Brien while the rest of the class asks him questions about his feelings while making the decision to go to war.

Extension Activities

Hopes, Fears, and Expectations


Take a few minutes and silently reflect on your hopes, fears, and expectations. After giving it some thought, write down these hopes, fears and expectations on a piece of paper, fold it, and place it into a basket. When the entire class has finished placing their papers in the basket, each person should choose one slip of paper (you must take whichever one you get, you can only put it back and pick again if you picked your own). Imagine that you are the person who has written what is on the paper. One at a time, take on the role of the other person and in your own words discuss what is listed. Do you share many of the same fears? How do your hopes differ from one another's? What types of things in your life affect what kind of expectations you have for the future? After the process is complete, discuss how your hopes, fears, and expectations might change if you were required to fight in a war. Discuss the volunteer army that we have today versus draft that was in place during the Vietnam War.

Things to Think About

The following can be used as discussion questions and activities or as essay questions:

· Explore the title, The Things They Carried. What items would you carry if you were going off to war and why are they important things for you to take? Share these items with the rest of your class by either writing about them, drawing a picture, bringing in photos, or, if possible, bringing in the actual items and showing them to the class. · What is the most difficult decision you have ever had to make? Did you ultimately decide to do what you thought was right, or what you thought others expected you to do? Do you feel you made the right decision? · Did the stage adaptation of The Things They Carried meet your expectations? How was watching the performance different from reading the book? Do you think the company did a good job of capturing the spirit of the book and at the same time creating an interesting work for the stage?

Create a Poem

Take a few minutes and look over the following passage: The day was cloudy. I passed through towns with familiar names, through the pine forests and down to the prairie, and then to Vietnam, where I was a soldier, and then home again. I survived, but it's not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war. --The Things They Carried, page 61 Using the quote as inspiration, write a short poem in free verse. Your poem must contain words or phrases from the original passage so it keeps the same theme, but be creative and make it your own. You may use literary devices such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, and repetition. When everyone is finished writing their poems, your may choose to share them with the class by either reading them aloud or posting them around the room.


Do You Know Your Part?

As a member of the audience, you are a crucial part of the performance. Before you arrive at the theater, make sure you know your role! · When you enter the theater, follow an usher to your seat. · Once the house lights (the lights in the part of the theater where the audience is sitting) go down, focus all your attention on the stage. · Attending a live theater performance is not the same as watching television at home. At the theater, talking, eating, or moving around disturbs the performers and other members of the audience. So watch and listen carefully to the performance. And please no food or beverages! · Don't bring cameras, camcorders, tape recorders, or any other recording equipment to the performance. You will not be allowed to use them. · If something in the play is funny, go ahead and laugh. And of course, please applaud at the end of the performance if you liked what you saw! · After the performer finishes taking his bows, stay in your seat until your group gets the signal to leave the theater.



BOOKS: Carrying the Darkness: The Poetry of the Vietnam War, edited by W. D. Ehrhart. Texas Tech University Press, 1989 10,000 Days of Thunder : A History of the Vietnam War, by Philip Caputo. Atheneum, 2005 Tim O'Brien, by Tobey C. Herzog. Twayne Publishers, 1997 FILMS (all rated R): Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola Born on the Fourth of July (1989), directed by Oliver Stone Casualties of War (1989), directed by Brian De Palma Full Metal Jacket (1987), directed by Stanley Kubrick

Keynotes are produced by the Education Department of the State Theatre, New Brunswick, NJ. Wesley Brustad, President Lian Farrer, Vice President for Education Keynotes written and designed by Lisa Beth Vettoso Edited by Lian Farrer © 2005 State Theatre The Things They Carried production photos by Jennifer Barnette © 2004 Portions of this guide were taken from The American Place Theatre's Literature to Life® Teacher Resource Guide.

The State Theatre's education program is funded in part by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Brother International Corporation, James and Diane Burke, the E & G Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, the J. Seward Johnson Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Karma Foundation, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, the McCrane Foundation, the National Starch and Chemical Foundation, the PNC Foundation, and the Wachovia Foundation. Their support is gratefully acknowledged. Funding has been made possible in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/ Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Continental Airlines is the official airline of the State Theatre.

Platoon (1986), directed by Oliver Stone WEBSITES: Battlefield: Vietnam - PBS website with history, timeline, and other information Glossary of Words Used During the Vietnam War The Things They Carried Study Guide Tim O'Brien's Home Page The Vietnam War - extensive resources on many aspects of the war



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