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Coping with the Reality of Death Depicted in Tim O'Brien's Novel, The Things They Carried

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Death is one of life's most challenging obstacles. Tim O'Brien was exposed to more than his fair share of death. To manage the emotional stress, he developed methods of coping with the death in his life. O'Brien's novel, The Things They Carried, demonstrates his attempts to make death less real through psychotherapeutic tactics like telling stories about the dead as if they were living and conceiving the dead as items instead of people.

O'Brien explains how the stories told about those who have passed are meant to keep the deceased's life alive. The "weight of memory" was one thing all the solders carried (14). When added to the physical weight of their gear and the emotional burdens of war, it was all too much. In response, the men altered their perceptions of the truth in order to lighten the haunting weight of memory. O'Brien suggests "in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true," memory is altered to compensate for its weight (82). In this way, O'Brien, and the rest of the men, were able to utilize "story-truth (179)." Stories alter truth, therefore, a well-told story can actually allow the dead to continue to live on. "In a story, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world (225)." In this way you could "keep the dead alive" with "blatant lies, bringing the body and soul back together (239)." O'Brien remembers listening to a story about Curt Lemon. He recalls how "you'd never know that Curt Lemon was dead (240)." It seemed like "he was still out there in the dark" yet, "he was dead (240)." Similarly O'Brien uses story to save his childhood friend's life, "not her body - her life (236)." In his stories Linda "can smile and sit up. She can reach out (236)." He allows her to come to life and "touch [h...


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...not practice coping techniques.

"War is hell . . . war is mystery terror and adventure and courage and discovery and despair and . . . war is nasty (80)." When it all happened it was not like "a movie you aren't a hero and all you can do is whimper and wait (211)." O'Brien and the rest of the solders were just ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. They needed to tell blatant lies" to "bring the body and soul back together (239)." They needed to eliminate the reality of death. As ordinary people they were not capable of dealing with the engulfing realities of death and war therefore they needed to create coping skills. O'Brien approaches the loss of his childhood friend, Linda, in the same way he approaches the loss of his comrades in the war as this is the only way he knows how to deal with death. A skill he learned, and needed, in the Vietnam War.


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