O'Brien's Things They Carried Essay: An American Nightmare
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History has shaped every country and their people, in particular negative experiences like the Holocaust in Nazi-Germany or the Vietnam war, involving the United States in a grueling controversy from 1964 until 1975. The author Tim O'Brian confronts an American audience in his short stories "The Things They Carried" with the inhumane consequences of political and military power decisions by rewriting history from a subjective,individual point of view. Thus he forces the audience to take a stand, to ask questions, to get morally and ethically involved.
The narrative structure of the "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" and "How to Tell a True War Story" contains two levels, the first on being a discourse about the characters of Vietnam stories. The "I", the narrator, introduces 'Rat' Kiley as his source for the narrative that follows. He characterizes stories about war as "strange", "swirling back and forth across the border between trivia and bedlam, the mad and mundane". The stories have a life of their own, reality is not absolute, not final. With this image he describes the ambiguity of war itself, the normality that turns into insanity, he summarizes the narrative about Mary Ann Bell and her experiences with the war. The narrator clearly states the purposes of these stories, he is not interested in factual truths about the war, he openly questions the reliability of his source: "Rat had a reputation for exaggeration and overstatement". He wants the audience to "feel exactly what he felt", an emotional experience, a subjective approach.
The second narrative level tells the story about Mary Ann Bell, the "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong". The narrator, probably the author, retells Rat's story in his own words, so that t...
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...ositive as well as its negative accomplishments. But how is this to be done, how do we deal with history personally and politically? Ths author Tim O'Brian gives us one answer in "How to Tell a True War Story" on page 69: "You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you. It you don't care for obscenity, you don't care for the truth; if you don't care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty". In other words if you don't want war watch how you vote. The connotation of this statement is far reaching, it naturally places responsibility on the American government for having participated in the war, but it foremost appeals to the american public to take responsibility and to use this history, this story to create a better future.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried.New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1990.