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.
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
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"
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
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
To learn more about indexing fiction, go
Bell, Hazel K. ed. Indexers
and Indexes in Fact & Fiction. Toronto: U of Toronto
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.