Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
Writing About The Sorrow of War
Are your students reading Bao Ninh's The Sorrow of War? This book will give your students a chance to think about important themes like the nature of war and violence, what it means to grieve, and the role that memories can play in the lives of individuals, among other things. It might also be the first opportunity your students have to reflect on the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese person.
One way to help make sure students get as much as possible out of the novel is to assign them to write essays. Writing essays not only gives students a chance to practice the writing process, but it also encourages them to develop their own voices in relation to the text and its themes. The essay prompts in this lesson will help your students think deeply and critically about The Sorrow of War.
Topics About Characters
Here, you will find essay prompts having to do with the different characters in the novel.
- How would you describe Kien as a person? Name several of his most prominent character traits, providing evidence from the text to support each of the characteristics that you name.
- How does Kien change over the course of his lifetime? How does the way the novel handles time help you understand the different ways Kien changes and evolves? What are some of the most significant factors that influence his changes as a person?
- What is the nature of Kien's relationship with his family and why? How can you understand the different relationships he has or had with his parents? How have these relationships impacted his own development?
- Describe Kien's mother as a person. What are her most important motivations? Why is she so interested in Communism and how does this influence her personality and relationships?
- How can you understand Kien's father as a person? What are his most important underlying personality traits? What can we learn through his character about what it means to be an artist?
- What do you know and understand about Phuong? Who is she and why is she so important in the novel? How is Kien's vision of her idealized and why does this matter in terms of how we are able to understand both of their characters and their relationship?
Topics About Plot
The topics in this section will focus your students' attention on the plot and how it unfolds.
- Write an essay describing how Ninh uses time in the novel. How does the way time unfolds influence the novel's narrative arc? What does it do to your overall understanding of the plot?
- How would you characterize the major conflicts or problems driving Ninh's plot? How does each of the problems you name get resolved or, if not resolved, handled in the plot?
- Why is Kien's disappearance such a significant aspect of the plot? What does it show about Ninh's underlying purposes or messages?
- Describe the significance of reading the English version of The Sorrow of War. How might the plot and its interpretation be influenced by the language in which you are reading it?
- Zero in on one scene in the novel that you find especially meaningful. Offer a close reading of the scene and its significance in relation to the plot overall.
Topics About Theme
Finally, this section offers prompts that will help students think about the different themes in The Sorrow of War.
- What do you consider the most salient theme in the novel and why? What do you think Ninh is trying to say about this theme? What is your own reaction to this message?
- Describe the role of war in The Sorrow of War. How does war influence people's lives and consciousness in this novel? What have you learned about war from reading it?
- What is the nature of family in The Sorrow of War? How does family function as one of the themes in this novel?
- Explain what sadness and grief are in the context of the novel. What is Ninh saying about sorrow and grief and how do these messages get communicated? How, if at all, does the novel influence your own thinking about these difficult themes?
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