Myth of Courage Exposed in The Things They Carried

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Ah for a young man

all looks fine and noble if he goes down in war,

hacked to pieces under a slashing bronze blade

he lies there dead. . .but whatever death lays bare

all wounds are marks of glory. (Homer 22.83-87)

As students we are brainwashed by ancient myths such as The Iliad, where war is extolled and the valorous warrior praised. Yet, modern novels such as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (THINGS) challenge those very notions. Like The Iliad, THINGS is about war. It is about battles and soldiers, victory and survival, yet the message O'Brien gives us in THINGS runs almost contradictory to the traditional war story. Whereas traditional stories of war take place on battlefields where soldier battles soldier and the mettle of man is tested, O'Brien's battle occurs in the shadowy, private place of a soldier's mind. Like the Vietnam War itself, THINGS forces Americans to question the foundations of their beliefs and values because it calls attention to the inner conscience. More than a war story, O'Brien's The Things They Carried is an expose on personal courage. Gone are the brave and glorious warriors such as those found in the battle of Troy. In THINGS, they are replaced by young men who experience not glory or bravery, but fear, horror, and a personal sense of shame. As mythic courage clashes with the modern's experience of it, a battle is waged in THINGS that isn't confined to the rice-patties, jungles, and shit-fields of Vietnam. Carrying more than the typical soldier's wares, O'Brien's narrator is armed with an arsenal of feelings and words that slash away at an invisible enemy that is the myth of courage, on an invisible battlefield that is the Vietnam veteran's mind.

An analysis of structure in ...

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...ings They Carried." Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 35.1 (1993): 43. Expanded Academic ASAP.

Lopez, Ken. "Tim O'Brien: An Introduction to His Writing." Ken Lopez - Bookseller. 1997. 8 Oct 1999. http://www.lopezbooks.com/articles/obrien.html>.

Works Consulted

Chen, Tina. "'Unraveling the Deeper Meaning': Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried." Contemporary Literature. 39.1 (1998): 77. Expanded Academic ASAP.

King, Rosemary. "O'Brien's 'How to Tell a True War Story.'" The Explicator. 57.3 (1999): 182. Expanded Academic ASAP.

Passaro, Vince. "The Things They Carried (Review)." Harper's Magazine. 299.1791 (1999): 80. Expanded Academic ASAP.

Robinson, Daniel. "Getting It Right: The Short Fiction of Tim O'Brien." Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 40.3 (1999): 257. Expanded Academic ASAP.
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