Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is a “true” war story for Tim O’Brien? How does he explore this in his books that concern Vietnam?

O’Brien spent a year in Vietnam in the general area where the My Lai massacre occurred the year before he arrived in Vietnam. How does My Lai surface in each of his books, particularly in The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods?

Many critics have suggested that O’Brien’s books are at least as much about the way memory works as they are about the Vietnam War. How does memory become a theme as well as an organizing device in O’Brien’s work?

Fathers and sons figure prominently in several of O’Brien’s stories and novels. How does the relationship between the father and son affect the outcomes of these stories?

“How to Tell a True War Story” and “Lives of the Dead” from The Things They Carried are stories about the writing of stories. What does O’Brien reveal about the purposes of stories?

In the Lake of the Woods can be called a detective story in that it is an investigation of a disappearance. What detective story conventions does O’Brien use in the novel and how does his use of them both fulfill and undermine the reader’s expectation?