Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is not a novel about the Vietnam War. “It is a story about the soldiers and their experiences and emotions that are brought about from the war” (King 182). O'Brien makes several statements about war through these dynamic characters. He shows the violent nature of soldiers under the pressures of war, he makes an effective antiwar statement, and he comments on the reversal of a social deviation into the norm. By skillfully employing the stylistic technique of specific, conscious detail selection and utilizing connotative diction, O'Brien thoroughly and convincingly makes each point.
Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried challenges the reader to question what they are reading. In the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story”, O’Brien claims that the story is true, and then continues to tell the story of Curt’s death and Rat Kiley’s struggle to cope with the loss of his best friend. As O’Brien is telling the story, he breaks up the story and adds in fragments about how the reader should challenge the validity of every war story. For example, O’Brien writes “you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil” (69), “in many cases a true war story cannot be believed” (71), “almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true” (81), and “a thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth (83). All of those examples are ways in which O’Brien hinted that his novel is a work of fiction, and even though the events never actually happened – their effects are much more meaningful. When O’Brien says that true war stories are never about war, he means that true war stories are about all the factors that contribute to the life of the soldiers like “love and memory” (85) rather than the actual war. Happening truth is the current time in which the story was being told, when O’Brien’s daughter asked him if he ever killed anyone, he answered no in happening truth because it has been 22 years since he was in war and he is a different person when his daughter asked him. Story truth
Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried has readers and critics alike scratching their heads with wonder about the meaning of “story-truth” and “happening-truth.” Although, he served in the Vietnam War from 1968 until 1970, he fabricates the events of the war throughout The Things They Carried. At the same time, he insists that the truth lies at the heart of the emotion in the story, an idea that many readers question. Furthermore, it is pointless for the reader to attempt to sort through the stories and differentiate between the “story-truth” and “happening-truth,” because it is nearly impossible. This tactic is one of O’Brien’s more ingenious writing methods. He does not want the reader to know the difference between the two because in his opinion that fact is irrelevant. O’Brien obviously thinks outside the box and has everyone questioning reality. However, this fact is truly ironic, because the point is not to care what type of “truth” it is, but to instead feel the raw beauty of the emotion and to accept it as the truth. While trying to define “story-truth” and “happening-truth,” a couple chapters in particular focus on the idea of truth, “How to Tell a True War Story,” “The Man I Killed” and “Good Form.” O’Brien believes that the most important thing for a reader is to experience the emotion of the story, be it “story-truth” or “happening-truth,” as long as the real emotion is conveyed and understood by the reader, then it is as true as it could possibly be.
Throughout Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried, a plethora of stories are told concerning the lives of a select number of soldiers in and out of the Vietnam War. In his writing, O’Brien also conveys his own thoughts on the art of storytelling and the nature of stories themselves. In these passages, O’Brien provides a detailed analysis of the challenges of storytelling, the effects of time on memory, the role of imagination in storytelling, the reason for retelling a story, and a story’s purpose and process for the reader.
King, Rosemary. "O'Brien's 'How to Tell a True War Story.'" The Explicator. 57.3 (1999): 182. Expanded Academic ASAP.
In The Things They Carried, an engaging novel of war, author Tim O’Brien shares the unique warfare experience of the Alpha Company, an assembly of American military men that set off to fight for their country in the gruesome Vietnam War. Within the novel, the author O’Brien uses the character Tim O’Brien to narrate and remark on his own experience as well as the experiences of his fellow soldiers in the Alpha Company. Throughout the story, O’Brien gives the reader a raw perspective of the Alpha Company’s military life in Vietnam. He sheds light on both the tangible and intangible things a soldier must bear as he trudges along the battlefield in hope for freedom from war and bloodshed. As the narrator, O’Brien displayed a broad imagination, retentive memory, and detailed descriptions of his past as well as present situations. 5. The author successfully uses rhetoric devices such as imagery, personification, and repetition of O’Brien to provoke deep thought and allow the reader to see and understand the burden of the war through the eyes of Tim O’Brien and his soldiers.
“War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead,” (80). In the fiction novel The Things They Carried, the author Tim O’Brien reminisces fighting in the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the war with his platoon mates through short stories and memories. He goes in depth about the emotional trauma and physical battles they face, what they carry, and how Vietnam and war has changed them forever. O’Brien’s stories describe the harsh nature of the Vietnam War, and how it causes soldiers to lose their innocence, to become guilt-ridden and regretful, and to transform into a paranoid shell of who they were before the war.
O’Brien begins The Things They Carried with a story of the same title, and in this memory O’Brien lists all of the things that the members of the squadron carry. In the description of what each person carries, the reader can get some image of what each character is like in appearance and personality. Also in this story, O’Brien describes one instance of destroying enemy tunnels which ends with one of their company, Ted Lavender, dying. “Love,” the second story is about Lieutenant Cross visiting O’Brien after the war has ended and discussing his love Martha. The next story, “Spin,” is a bit more relaxed and less violent in remembering fragmented memories of days when no battles are fought. O’Brien received his draft notice in “On the Rainy River,” and with this new information he runs away to Canada, but not before stopping at Tip Top Lodge to think about his decision; he decides to go and fight in the war. “Enemies,” and “Friends,” are the next two stories that tell the story of how Lee Strunk and Dave Jensen were foes that became friends. O’Brien prefaces “How to Tell a True War Story” saying that it is true. This story is the only one that has this proclamation. This story is more of a love story than a war story because after Curt Lemon dies, Rat Kiley writes his sister including in the letter all the great stuff that Lemon did. In “Dentist,” Curt Lemon’s story and fears are expanded. O’Brien tells a story Rat Kiley told him about the Song Tra
O’Brien, Tim. “How to Tell a True War Story.” The Things They Carried. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Print.
O’Brien, Tim. “How To Tell a True War Story.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2003. p. 420-429.
Several stories into the novel, in the section, “How to tell a true war story”, O’Brien begins to warn readers of the lies and exaggerations that may occur when veterans tell war stories.
Tim O’Brien is a very gifted author, but he is also a veteran of the Vietnam War and fought with the United States in that controversial war. Tim O’Brien was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1968. He served as an infantryman, and obtained the rank of sergeant and won a Purple Heart after being wounded by shrapnel. He was discharged from the Vietnam War in 1970. I believe that O’Brien’s own images and past experiences he encountered in the Vietnam War gave him inspiration to write the story “The Things They Carried.” O’Brien tells the story in third person narrative form about Lt. Jimmy Cross and his platoon of young American men in the Vietnam War. In “The Things They Carried” we can see differences and similarities between the characters by the things they hold close to them.
O’Brien, Tim. “How to Tell a True War Story.” The Things They Carried. Boston and New York: Mariner Books, 2009. 64-81. Print.
Tim O’Brien is doing the best he can to stay true to the story for his fellow soldiers. Tim O’Brien believed that by writing the story of soldiers in war as he saw it brings some type of justice to soldiers in a war situation.