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The Things They Carried: On the Rainy River

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The Things They Carried: On the Rainy River

Post  Admin on September 16th 2008, 10:52 am

In small groups, please discuss "On a Rainy River":

(1) How do the opening sentences prepare you for the story: "This is one story I've never told before. Not to anyone"? What effect do they have on you, as a reader?

(2) Why does O'Brien relate his experience as a pig declotter? How does this information contribute to the story? Why go into such specific detail?

(3) What is Elroy Berdahl's role in this story? Would this be a better or worse story if young Tim O'Brien simply headed off to Canada by himself, without meeting another person?

(4) At the story's close, O'Brien almost jumps ship to Canada, but doesn't: "I did try. It just wasn't possible" (61). What has O'Brien learned about himself, and how does he return home as a changed person?

(5) Why, ultimately, does he go to war? Are there other reasons for going he doesn't list?


Last edited by Admin on December 9th 2008, 1:41 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Answer to Discussion Questions On the Rainy River

Post  cWest on September 16th 2008, 12:50 pm

1. The opening line of this short story makes the reader really want to continue reading because it sounds like he's telling you a secret. And everybody loves secrets. It makes you feel anxious and scared because you get the feeling that what he's going to say is really bad or important.

2. His job as a pig declotter symbolizes the slaughter he's going to be committing in Vietnam in the near future. This information contributes to the story because it's foreshadowing the war and Tim's part in it. He goes into such detail because it's so critically symbolic and it jumps out at you.

3. Elroy Berdhal's place in this story was being Tim's personal "cross-roads" guide. He helped Tim make his decision to go back home and fight in the war, without even saying anything. His silence made Tim really consider what he was doing and where to go from there. This would be a different story if he had gone to Canada because there would be no stories about the Vietnam War. I think the "better or worse if he had gone to Canada" part of this question is up to interpretation and we, as a group, think it would be very much worse.

4. O'Brien has learned that he has duties to his family and to his country, and he doesn't want to be a "pussy" in other people's eyes. He personally would have jumped ship if there was no one judging him and he was thinking only of himself. Tim learns that even if he doesn't want to fight in a war that he doesn't believe in, he has to in order to save his reputation.

5. Ultimately, he goes to war because he feels trapped and doesn't want to be a pansy in other people's eyes. He kept saying there "was no happy way out" and he didn't want to leave his whole life behind and run away to Canada.

--Hayley, Caroline, and Harriett

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Re: The Things They Carried: On the Rainy River

Post  Atlantisbase on September 16th 2008, 12:58 pm

Paul Petry, William Keller

The opening lines give us a feeling of being let in on a secret, it makes you feel special. It gives you the sense that this to tell this story is a painful event and it makes you appreciate it that much more.

He wants us, the readers, to have, to feel the monotony of the act of declotting pigs. He wants us to feel like we are covered in pig’s blood. He wants us to feel the struggle over the decision to go to war. By doing this it becomes real to the reader and they can feel like they are Tim O’Brien

Elroy acts as the silent trail guide, who, through his very presence acts as a reflection for Tim. Indeed it seems that this story would be lacking something if Elroy were not in the story, if Tim were to just make for Canada we would see him come to understand himself.

Tim learns that he is not as brave as he thought he was. He learns that to jump ship requires a conviction which he simply does not have and he returns knowing that it is better to face up to life than to run away.

Tim ultimately goes to war because he is scared not to. He is scared of the ridicule he might face if he were to run to Canada. He went because he could not find the bravery to run.

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Discussion Question Answers

Post  Amelia F. on September 19th 2008, 12:23 pm

1) It is a hook. It makes you feel honored to be reading it. It makes it seem personal, like a confession. You also respect him for finally saying what ever he had to say out loud for the first time. This respect creates a bond between the reader and the author. It gives you a chance to walk in his shoes, being let in on this big moment.

2) It shows where he was at that point in his life, giving the reader a better understanding of his state of mind at the time. It also represents the draft; in his mind, the draft was like an assembly line- he sees the young men with such potential being shipped out to die.

3) It would have been a completely different story, for the story needs him. Even though Elroy never said anything, his presence was help enough, like a companion on the road of decision. He also kept him on track, giving his life structure in the present while he was living in the future and thinking about the past.
Although he doesn’t say anything, you have a mental picture of Elroy and you feel you also know him as a person simply by reading the description given.

4) He realizes how much his decisions are based on the people around him, what they would think and what he has learned from them. He is a coward for doing something for what others think, but at the same time, he’s not. He is doing it to keep his family from the shame is fleeing would create. Also, it all became real when he saw Canada.

5) He is a coward not for going to war, but for not going through with what would be right for him.

Amelia, Zoe, Chiara

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Questions Reponse

Post  Elizabeth Gombert on September 25th 2008, 12:43 pm

1. Makes it sound as though the author is confiding in you; it creates an intimate tone. It creates dramatic tension, making you eager to read on.
2. The author includes this description to foreshadow the violence that he will no doubt encounter in the war- he uses a gun and is covered in blood. It also enhances the emotions that he was going through after he received his draft notice; this makes the reader empathize with the narrator’s situation. He feels trapped by death; just as the pigs are trapped, dead, on the assembly line, O’Brien feels trapped by the draft notice and the bleak outlook for his future. The fact that O’Brien can never wash off the stench of the pig blood is symbolic of the way that he cannot escape the draft notice.
3. Without Elroy Berdahl, O’Brien would have gone to Canada and there would have been no story. Berdhal served as an audience; he gave O’Brien a chance to think over his decision without having to have any outside input. The answer came from O’Brien—Berdhal did not pressure O’Brien to make any decision.
4. O’Brien learns that he does not have a strong store of courage that he thought he did. He finds that he has a sense of shame—he does not want everyone to think poorly of him.
5. He goes to war because he doesn’t want to appear a coward. He is afraid of living with the shame of running away from war.

Elyssia, Katy Reb, Elizabeth, Angeline

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