Study Guide

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Tim O'Brien made something of a splash in the literary world when his Going After Cacciato beat two much more high-profile books by John Cheever and John Irving to win the National Book Award in 1979. The Things They Carried more than lived up to the expectations of the critics when it appeared in 1990. Though reviewers debated whether the book was a novel or a collection of stories, there was little disagreement that it was an important and accomplished work.

Michael Coffey of Publishers Weekly interviewed O'Brien and previewed the book a few weeks prior to its publication. Coffey insists that the book is ''neither a collection of stories nor a novel [...] but a unified narrative, with chapters that stand perfectly on their own (many were award-winning stories) but which together render deeper continuities of character and thought.'' Coffey also predicts that The Things They Carried ‘‘may be the masterwork’’ that O'Brien's earlier books suggested he was capable of.

When Robert Harris reviewed the book for New York Times in March, 1990, he called the book a ‘‘collection of interrelated stories.’’ More importantly, however, Harris also claimed that The Things They Carried belonged ''on the short list of essential fiction about Vietnam,'' and ''high up on the list of best fiction about any war.’’ Harris puzzles a little over O'Brien's blurring of fact and fiction in his use of a...

(The entire section is 561 words.)