In many respects, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried concerns the relationship between fiction and the narrator. In this novel, O'Brien himself is the main character--he is a Vietnam veteran recounting his experiences during the war, as well as a writer who is examining the mechanics behind writing stories. These two aspects of the novel are juxtaposed to produce a work of literature that comments not only upon the war, but also upon the actual art of fiction: the means of storytelling, the purposes behind them, and ultimately the relationship between fiction and reality itself.
Through writing about his experiences in Vietnam, O'Brien's character is able to find a medium in which he can sort through his emotions, since "by telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths" (158). He does not look upon his stories as therapy--he recounts his stories since they are a part of his past, and who he is now is the direct result of them:
Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a life-time ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. (38)
O'Brien's character makes several comments on storytelling in certain sections of the novel, such as "How to Tell a True War Story." Through making these comments, the narrator is not only justifying the intent of The Things They Carried,but he is also provid...
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...ally draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality."
--Patricia Waugh, Metafiction: The Theory and Practice
of Self-Conscious Fiction.New York: Methuen, 1984.
Sources Cited and Consulted:
Calloway, Catherine. "'How to Tell a True War Story': Metafiction in The Things They Carried." Studies in Contemporary Fiction 36.4 (1995): 249. Expanded Academic ASAP.
Jarraway, David R. "'Excremental Assault'" in Tim O'Brien: Trauma and Recovery in Vietnam War Literature.": Modern Fiction Studies 44.3 (1998): p.695-711.
Kaplan, Steven. "The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried." Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 35.1 (1993): 43. Expanded Academic ASAP.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway Books, 1990.
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