Understanding unfamiliar references may be a challenge for students reading Tim O’Brien’s "The Things They Carried." This three-page handout defines 47 references that some of today’s students may not know. It includes 26 military references (such as “MIA” and “SOP”); two songs, including links where students can hear the songs and read the lyrics; 12 cultural references (such as “Gene Autry” and “The Lone Ranger”); four historical references (such as LBJ and SEATO); and three references to Vietnamese society. Each reference includes page numbers.
Students could fold this handout in half and use as a bookmark. Or you could use this handout as a prompt for in-class discussion, asking students to explain some of the references. For example, what is the connection between the song “Lemon Tree” and how Curt Lemon died? Or what is the significance of the movie "The Birds" in the chapter “The Ghost Soldiers”? Such questions can promote deeper reading and analytical thinking. This handout could even be adapted as a quiz.
Be aware that although “The Things They Carried” refers to many weapons, my list does not include most of these references. Context clues make it very evident that they are weapons. I also chose not to draw students’ attention to weapons.