Who made this index...

This index was written by the 2001-2002 Advanced Placement Literature class at Carmel High School in Mundelein, Il.

Students organized themselves into five committees:

Characters: Kate Albers, Beth Arvidson, Jenna Stickley, Emily Sylwestrak, Michael Vanden Boom

Culture: Mike Duffy, Katie Fuhrman, Anne Kwiatt, Siiri Marquardt, Samir Mirza

Language: Sara Bert, Joe Hoffmann, Sarah Kwasigroch, Stephanie Miller, Sarah Scalzitti

Themes: Tricia Blomgren, Oleg Bykorez, Carolyn Cain, Diana Metropulos, Heather Titus

Things: Julie Drennan, Eric Knight, Amanda Majeski, Erin McGinn, Ryan Spude

Editor and Webdrone: Br. Tom Murphy, O.Carm.

...and why?

A search of the internet uncovered a wide array of Tim O'Brien/The Things They Carried resources. But there was no index. Because many teachers and students read, discuss, and write about this work, we thought an index might have its place.

I was surprised that the class did not need much persuading when I suggested that we might try to index Tim O'Brien's book. Having indexed John Gardner's Grendel by myself, I was secretly hoping for some resistance--that some saner minds would call us back to reality. Instead, a general acquiesence prevailed, and off we went. And I am happy enough to have had the experience.

Indexing's potential as a class project had been tempting me ever since the Grendel job. I knew how that experience had altered and enriched my reading of Gardner's work. I also recognized that, for all of its apparent drudgery, it was an evocative and idiosyncratic process. Would it work with a group?

My initial concerns were organizational, but the class quickly took care of that. Then I began to worry about time constraints--not so easily overcome. In fact, most of the problems in this index could have been resolved with more time to consider and revise. As it was, I felt that the project was taking up too much time in our last quarter.

Another major concern that hovers over any project like this involves our working edition of the text. Is it stable? Is the publisher planning a new edition with altered pagination? Our uncertainty on this point makes a significant leap of faith of our commitment of time and effort. (Saints of publishing, preserve us!)

In Indexing Books Nancy Mulvany offers this definition, "An index is a structured sequence--resulting from a thorough and complete analysis of text--of synthesized access points to all the information contained in the text" (4).

And elsewhere she notes: "The text of the index itself can be described as a hypertext. It is not truly a linear document. Many of the nodes are linked through cross-referencing. These links provide a path that leads users to related information in the index document...One of the benefits of structured browsing is serendipity" (69).

This particular index is not an attempt to define, confine, contain, or explain Mr. O'Brien's rich work. It is, instead, an eccentric essay composed by twenty-six particular readers who are more interested in opening up the text than in shutting it down. Mulvany refers to a "complete analysis" and the availability of "all the information." These terms become problematic when we try to apply them to a work of fiction. But her attention to "access points" resonates with what any re-reader might require--quick and accurate identification of useful passages via cross-referenced nodes.

Who needs this index?

Nobody more than the indexer himself or herself.

The indexer of a novel must be, above all, a reader and a re-reader--one who struggles to recognize and value both the forest and the individual trees, one who desires, as Isaac D'Israeli noted, to "[lay] open the nerves and arteries of a book" (Bell 62).

How useful a novel's index might be to anyone other than the indexer remains a question. As an amateur indexer, however, I recognize the act of indexing as both a practical and a darkly whimsical act of reading. On one hand, it demands that I attend to details and patterns, to hints and motifs, that I might otherwise ignore. On the other, it imposes an austere discipline that significantly alters the reading experience and probably shouldn't be attempted on a first reading.

A casual reader of The Things They Carried would not immediately feel the need for an index. Though, as one reads the novel for the first time, one comes to recognize a mass of repetitions and subtle echoes that bind these structurally distinct stories into a vibrant whole. The book is something like a novel (more like than not) and not just, as often described, a collection of short stories (see Calloway's discussion of the book as "metafiction"). An index helps to make this case.

Despite the group's best efforts, this is not the best of all possible indexes to The Things They Carried. Such may not exist. Given more time for discussion and revision, I can imagine some significantly different outcomes. But for every bit of a flaw I find, these reader-indexers of AP Lit have presented some wonderful surprises, insightful connections, and pretty thorough (if not quite impeccable) coverage. All honor to them, who gave some of the finest hours of their youth to pursue this mad project. With their permission - and help - let's consider it a work-in-progress.

Please feel free to suggest improvements, add some missing element, report a bad link, or offer a kind word. I am particularly interested to hear about the uses to which you have put, will put, or might put the index.

Br. Tom Murphy
June 2002

To learn more about indexing fiction, go here.

Works Cited

Bell, Hazel K. ed. Indexers and Indexes in Fact & Fiction. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2001.

Calloway, Catherine, 'How to tell a true war story': Metafiction in 'The Things They Carried.'., Vol. 36, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, June, 1995, pp 249 ff. . http://www.chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/Vietnam/callowaythings.html

Mulvany, Nancy. Indexing Books. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994.