How can I compare and contrast The Things They Carried and Redeployment, considering their similarities and differences?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Compare and contrast essays in literature classes normally follow a standard, regular pattern. Your introduction summarizes the main aspects of the novels that you intend to cover in the body of the essay. Next, you organize the body thematically. In other words, rather than writing first about one story collection and then about the other collection, you have three or more thematic sections, each comparing and contrasting how the two works handle specific themes or issues; sections may also address some other aspect of the works. Your conclusions should show how the process of comparison in some way illuminates aspects of the book that would not have been apparent if you had not read both works. You should use headings to divide your essay into sections. You might want to divide your essay to address the following topics: 

Wars: The Things They Carried was published in 1990 and looks back to the Vietnam War of the 1960s. Redeployment was published in 2014 and refers back to the war in Iraq. These two wars were quite different in some ways. One was in a jungle and the other in a desert, and the technology of the Iraq War was far more advanced than that of the one in Vietnam. For similarities, you might investigate ideological issues behind the conflicts and the prevalence of guerrilla as opposed to conventional warfare in both conflicts.

Authors: Both Phil Klay and Tim O'Brien were themselves veterans of the wars they discuss. While O'Brien was drafted, Phil Klay volunteered, beginning his training to become an officer while he was a student at Dartmouth. In this section you would compare and contrast the effects of their own roles in the military on their books.

Perspective: Both collections tell of the respective wars from an American point of view. Thus what we have here are, in a sense, coming of age stories of American soldiers set against a foreign environment. The wars might have been seen from a very different perspective had the authors been Vietnamese or Iraqi. 

Literary Technique: Both works are similar in that they are collections of short stories with linked settings, characters, and themes. In your essay, you might discuss how effectively you think the structure is used by the two authors. We also have highly educated authors with sophisticated perspectives writing about and replicating the speech of the less educated "grunts" who constituted the majority of the armed forces in both wars. You might want to comment on the ways in which the authors treat the language of soldiers in the two books. You might also look at whether O'Brien's narrative distancing makes his book more or less effective than Klay's work.

Theme: Both books try to look beyond the politics of the wars to the human experiences of the soldiers. Your final body section or your conclusion might discuss how these books made you understand the experience of war differently. Both books ultimately give a pessimistic view of the wars they describe. You might conclude with a discussion of whether the shared pessimism is an inevitable consequence of the soldier's perspective and the genre of the war story or whether it is particular to the past few decades of United States' foreign policy.

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