Courage and Corruption in Tim O'Brien's War Stories

Students read The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien based on his experience in the Vietnam War. To broaden their understanding of the context of the stories, students participate in a number of background workshops about the Vietnam War, read veterans' letters and poems, listen to songs, and watch videos about the subject.

Students hold Socratic seminars in which they debate the meaning of courage, and whether war corrupts people. They then write a literary essay about courage and corruption in the stories of Tim O'Brien.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
poems by Vietnam War veterans
Patrol by Walter Dean Myers
excerpts from Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam

Students research the causes, experiences, and effects of the Vietnam War. They use a variety of nonfiction articles, pictures, and Web sites during a series of building-background-knowledge workshops.

Media Used: 
Soldier's Sweetheart (a TV movie based on "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," a story from The Things They Carried)
Documentary from the bonus features on the Platoon DVD
"For What It's Worth," "What's Going On" and other protest songs of the era
Interim Assessments: 

Mini PBAT (short literary essay) based on the O'Brien stories "Friends" and "Enemies"

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Socratic Seminar 1: Was Tim O'Brien Courageous or Cowardly (discussion of the chapter "On the Rainy River")

Socratic Seminar 2: Does War Corrupt People or Just Bring Out Who They Really Are (discussion based on the story "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong")

Sample PBATs: 
PBAT Prompt: Write a critical essay in which you discuss “On the Rainy River” or “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” and at least one other work (another short story, a poem, a song, a film, a primary document) that sheds light on the historical context of the Vietnam War and/or a related current issue. Write about these texts from the perspective of an inquiry-based question, such as: How might this quote apply to the works you have read: “What is courageous in one setting can be cowardly in another.” —Joseph Epstein. Be sure to make explicit connections between the story and the other text you choose. In your essay, support your argument using specific evidence and references to appropriate texts. Where applicable, explain how literary elements (for example: conflict, metaphor, symbolism) from the two works contribute to the argument you are making.
Other choices: Courageous Act or Instinct?
Courage or Cowardice: What Do You Choose? Your Influences Vs. Your Morals