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In "The Things They Carried," what does Tim O'Brien mean when he says “[I]t’s not a...

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dawhit | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted July 9, 2013 at 1:57 PM via web

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In "The Things They Carried," what does Tim O'Brien mean when he says “[I]t’s not a game.  It’s a form?"

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kipling2448 | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 9, 2013 at 3:41 PM (Answer #1)

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Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried represents a cathartic release for the author -- a way in which he purged himself (or, at least, sought to) of the memories of what he witnessed and of the guilt of what he did during his service in the Army in Vietnam.  Through the thinly-veiled fictionalization of his tour of duty during a divisive, protracted, and ultimately fruitless conflict in which tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians perished, O'Brien confesses his sins while leaving the reader uncertain of to what precisely the author is confessing.

When O'Brien writes "...it's not a game.  It's a form," he is explaining his confession of duplicity.  He is not deceiving the reader for fun; he has fictionalized(?) his memories of war because it is how he can purge himself of the guilt and the memories without reliving them too specifically and without divulging too much information the release of which could present him and his friends and colleagues in an unfairly negative light.  In war, context is everything.  "Here is the happening truth," O'Brien finally writes, "I was once a soldier.  There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look.  And now, twenty years later, I'm left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief."

When retired Lieutenant General Harold Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway related the former's recollections of the large, brutal and costly battle at Ia Drang, they titled their 1992 book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young.  Then-Lieutenant Colonel Moore recounts the momentous battle when a battalion of just under 400 American soldiers were surrounded by 4,000 North Vietnamese. The battle of Ia Drang represents a memory that its survivals would be just as happy to see vanish, so intense was the fighting and so frightening the situation for the young soldiers involved.  The title of Moore's and Galloway's history of that battle serves the same literary purpose as does O'Brien's use of duplicity regarding the line separating fact from fiction.  When nations go to war, it is the young who pay with their lives, and who carry the memories inside them for the rest of their days.

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