Ambiguity in How to Tell a True War Story, by Tim O’Brien

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Summary In “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell argues that the English language has evolved from a language of meaning to a language of vagueness. He critiques modern English for its staleness of imagery and lack of precision, stating that it has relied on “ready-made phrases” (Orwell 280). Orwell believes that the use of complex words has deprived the general public and writers themselves from the meaning a certain piece is trying to illustrate. He draws upon five scholarly sources, all of them being related to politics, to strengthen his idea that the secured feeling of mediocre writing has prevailed over the risk involved with passionate writing. The main targets of his argument are politicians. Orwell strongly discourages the political use of euphemism to cover up the truth from the public. He believes the use of “pretentious diction” by politicians and journal writers has allowed them to get away with the indefensible (Orwell 274). Although Orwell bashes modern English, he offers a list of rules because he is confident that language is curable if people take the time to construct words to express an idea rather than letting the words create the meaning for them (Orwell 285). Response In “How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien, Orwell’s ideas are questioned and the competition between the truth and the underlying meaning of a story is discussed. O’Brien’s story depicts that the truth is not always a simple concept; and that not every piece of literature or story told can follow Orwell’s list of rules (Orwell 285). The story is told through an unnamed narrator as he re-encounters memories from his past as a soldier in the Vietnam War. With his recollection of past encounters, the narrator offers us segm... ... middle of paper ... ...e precision or real truthfulness of a story is irrelevant, “a thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth” (O’Brien 80). In reality, truth is not about occurrence, but about imagination and perception, a story can be factual or fictional, but its meaning will be the same. Therefore, the lack of precision is what actually provides us with the truth, nothing is accurate and this will always be the case, at times, the truth is so powerful that it cannot simply be put into words as Orwell would like, it can only exist in the intricacy of the human mind. Works Cited O’Brien, Tim. “How to Tell a True War Story.” The Things They Carried. Boston and New York: Mariner Books, 2009. 64-81. Print. Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language.” George Orwell: Critical Essays. London: Harvill Secker: 2009. 270-286. Print.
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