Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

May 30, 2017
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There is always death in war, but there is not always blood. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, is a fictional work based on true war stories, but it is hard to tell whether some events really happened or not. There are no straightforward descriptions of the Vietnam war such as how people had died or how they were wounded. However, whether fictionalized or not, the plot provoked sadness over the devastation of war.

O’Brien writes about the Vietnam War in The Things They Carried. This war was not a popular one in America because the public thought fighting was unnecessary especially for American civilians and soldiers. Some wars are considered heroic and justifiable, but not the Vietnam War. Soldiers were like chess pieces in this war in which civilians were drafted and required to fight. Unfortunately, lives were ruined. Nonetheless, they had to kill because it was, after all, a time of war.

To tell a true, immoral war story, O’Brien concludes the book with this line: “it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen...what seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way” (67). Two concepts, “happening truth” and “human truth” are being argued here. According to O’Brien, storytelling is not always based on the exact truth of how things happened especially those things that seem the most likely to happen. The power of telling a story that is made up is “that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head” and thus creates “the illusion of aliveness” (218). By delving into his own memories of war through his writing, O’Brien can attempt to recover from the wounds created by this experience. Of course, death is the most painful memory left behind, and most soldiers suffer from this the trauma of seeing death firsthand once they return from any war. Essentially, O’Brien is part of a small group who learns how to deal with people who have died around him in the war. War stories may not always be true and may not always be moral, but readers should forgive the storyteller because telling the truth is not the only purpose for writing.

By reading The Things They Carried, I understand more the concept of storytelling and find it is fascinating how good stories can make a difference in how we view war and life. Undoubtedly, this book offers first-hand advice on novel writing and truth. It also leaves us with a sense that O’Brien had traumatic memories of war but learned how to tell them to be able to express them healthily.

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