Study Help Essay Questions


1. Given traditions of war literature, why does O'Brien write a war story that has no heroes? How do you think O'Brien defines "heroism"?

2. What is the place of women in a war story? Why does O'Brien need characters like Mary Anne, Kathleen, and Martha in his novel? What is the connection between love and war, if there is one?

3. How are "Tim O'Brien" the soldier and "Tim O'Brien" the writer different? How does the experience of one illuminate the experience of the other? How are these depictions of "O'Brien" in various stages of his life related to "Timmy"? What does "O'Brien" mean when he writes that he realizes writing "is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story"?

4. Comment on three characters' loss of innocence in the novel, more specifically how these characters move from innocence of war to experience of the ravages of Vietnam. What is the catalyst for their change? Do you think these characters completely lose their innocence, and if they do, how does O'Brien demonstrate this?

5. Discuss three examples of O'Brien writing about writing or storytelling. How does this relate to O'Brien's decision to write his work as a series of vignettes or interrelated stories rather than as a traditional linear narrative?

6. What is the function of memory in the novel? According to O'Brien, does remembering the past preclude "endings" such as the ending of O'Brien's personal and emotional conflict over participation in the Vietnam War? Both Kathleen and Linda discuss "endings." With whose version do you think "O'Brien" ultimately agrees and why?