The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried Tim O'Brien
(Full name William Timothy O'Brien) American novelist, short-story writer, memoirist, and journalist.
The following entry presents criticism on O'Brien's short-story collection The Things They Carried (1990) from 1990 through 2002.
Published in 1990, The Things They Carried is regarded as an exceptional fictional work based on the experiences of a dozen American soldiers dealing with the trauma and boredom of combat during the Vietnam War. Reviewers commend O'Brien's innovative combination of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction in the short pieces that comprise the volume. In fact, the interweaving of fact and fiction in The Things They Carried has generated much commentary, particularly about the ambiguous nature of his narratives and the metafictional quality of his storytelling techniques. In 1991 the volume was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Plot and Major Characters
The Things They Carried is comprised of twenty-two interconnected short stories, many of which were published separately in periodicals. These short pieces utilize elements of disparate forms—fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, memoir, author's notations, and literary commentary—and focus on the Vietnam War experience and its traumatic aftermath. The opening piece, “The Things They Carried,” is a list that focuses on everything carried into battle by each soldier in the book, ranging from such items as jungle boots and personal letters to feelings like grief, rage, and shame. Critics have praised it as a fitting and insightful introduction to the recurring characters in the book. Many of the pieces explore the process of storytelling and reflect on the confusion of the war experience: several episodes are derived from other sources, or are remembered long after the fact; some are stories overheard and repeated in the oral tradition. Several stories feature a character named Tim O'Brien who comments on the process of writing the stories—twenty years later. The interplay between memory and imagination makes it difficult for the reader to distinguish the truthful elements of the story. The O'Brien narrator often recalls and elaborates on the scenes in various stories; in other stories, he is not identified as the narrator until after the narrative is complete. In “The Man I Killed,” O'Brien revises the story of his mental breakdown after killing an enemy soldier—only to reveal that his revised version is also invented. Other stories are related by other narrators. “Speaking of Courage” chronicles the grief and alienation of Vietnam veteran Norman Bowker, who is unable to articulate his shame over his failure to save his friend from death in combat after he returns home to Iowa. In an addendum to the story, “Notes,” the narrator informs readers that the original version of “Speaking of Courage” was written in 1975 at the suggestion of Bowker, who killed himself three years later in Iowa. In “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” Rat Kiley chronicles the strange story of Mary Anne Bell, an Ohio cheerleader who follows her high school sweetheart to Vietnam and transforms into a terrorist herself. By the end of the fantastic tale—as Mary Anne disappears into the jungle wearing a necklace of human tongues—Kiley is relating information from other sources and the story has become a legend. “How to Tell a True War Story” meditates on the relationship of truth to storytelling. In one section of the story, another soldier relates the story of a six-man patrol that is ordered into the mountains and undergoes a traumatic experience. When the soldier tries to apply a moral and revises the story, the narrator recognizes the inherent truth of the first version. For him, a true story is one that isn't based on what actually happened, but the different ways in which the traumatic experience is rewritten and retold. Critics note that traumatic experiences are endlessly filtered and recirculated in the stories. In another section of “How to Tell a True War Story,” Rat Kiley cruelly kills a baby water buffalo for no reason—which upsets a listener at one of O'Brien's book readings years later. O'Brien then retells the story, over and over, with each version providing a new perspective on Kiley's own emotional trauma from earlier combat experiences and the murder of the buffalo. Eventually he reveals that it all was a fictional exercise meant to express trauma and its consequences without merely utilizing his own personal experiences.
Critics assert that the central theme of The Things They Carried is the relationship of storytelling to truth. In this vein, they often discuss O'Brien's interest in transcending reality to represent the truths of his traumatic Vietnam War experience as a defining characteristic of the book. Commentators note that for O'Brien, the question of authenticity and verisimilitude when relating war experiences is ambiguous; instead, a story's authenticity is often based on its effect on the reader. As O'Brien states, a story is truthful if it “makes the stomach believe.” Reviewers assert that the stories address the effects of combat trauma and the struggle for redemption and recovery. The role of memory is an important theme in the stories in the volume. Another major thematic concern in The Things They Carried is cowardice: not only in combat, but also in the narrator's choice to participate in what he feels is an unjust war. Commentators have analyzed the representations of masculinity and femininity in the book. Exile and alienation also figure prominently in the stories, as returning American war veterans feel displaced from their old life and haunted by their wartime experiences.
A resounding critical success, The Things They Carried is considered a valuable contribution to the canon of Vietnam War literature. Commentators often discuss the genre of the book; it is often classified as a composite novel instead of a group of interconnected short stories. Some reviewers regard The Things They Carried as a continuation of O'Brien's first two Vietnam narratives: the autobiographical If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973) and novel Going after Cacciato (1978). The tendency of the stories to reflect upon their own status, format, and function has prompted critics to refer to the volume as a work of metafiction. O'Brien's concentration on storytelling and memory has led critics to compare The Things They Carried to the work of Marcel Proust and Joseph Conrad. Moreover, O'Brien's war stories have been compared to the Civil War stories of Ambrose Bierce and the classical stories of Homer's Iliad. Mental health professionals have praised O'Brien for his insightful depiction of combat trauma in his stories. Critics applaud his ability to memorialize his wartime experiences and view The Things They Carried as his most accomplished work of fiction.
The Things They Carried 1990
If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (memoirs) 1973
Northern Lights (novel) 1975
Going after Cacciato (novel) 1978
The Nuclear Age (novel) 1985
In the Lake of the Woods (novel) 1994
Tomcat in Love (novel) 1998
July, July (novel) 2002
(The entire section is 44 words.)
SOURCE: Bunting, Josiah. “Vietnam, Carried On.” Book World—Washington Post (23 April 1990): B13.
[In the following review, Bunting considers the defining and unifying characteristics of the stories in The Things They Carried.]
A war writer's compulsion to write about why, and how, he writes about war and about what constitutes good war writing is not often resisted successfully. It rises like second growth forest, from soil in which his memory has already quickened and that has nourished his imagination and sometimes its trunks and shoots bristle in the midst of taller usually stronger trees. Too often the consequence is literary criticism, or reflections on the unreliability of memory, or simple assertions about writing about combat, that should have stood alone. It is rare that writers of unusual imaginative powers have critical gifts to match. When the fruits of both are mixed, the result is to diminish each. Perhaps The Things They Carried deserves a partial exemption from such criticism: It is after all a collection of long stories and memoirs (it is impossible to tell which is which) published over the last 11 years of Tim O'Brien's writing life. What efforts have been made to stitch them together, after the fact, cannot be judged.
Most of these narratives tell stories about the lives and deaths of 19-year-old American boys in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1968....
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SOURCE: Streitfeld, David. “Never Done.” Book World—Washington Post (19 May 1991): 15.
[In the following review, Streitfeld examines O'Brien's revisions to the paperback edition of The Things They Carried.]
In the hardcover edition of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, published last year, there is a scene where the narrator, called Tim, goes back to Vietnam with his 10-year-old daughter Kathleen. They go on a sidetrip to Quang Ngai, where Tim finds the field his friend Kiowa died in—a stretch of ground that for 20 years “had embodied all the waste that was Vietnam, all the vulgarity and horror.”
As Kathleen watches, Tim takes Kiowa's hunting hatchet over to where the field dips down into the river. “Right here, I thought. Leaning forward, I reached in with the hatchet and wedged it handle first into the soft bottom, letting it slide away, the blade's own weight taking it under.”
In the paperback edition, just released by Penguin, the scene is the same—except for one detail. This time it's a pair of moccasins that Tim buries.
Tim O'Brien, the real Tim O'Brien, explains the switch: “When I was writing the novel, the phrase ‘bury the hatchet’ didn't occur to me. But when I read it in the hardcover version, I thought ‘Ohmigod. That's kind of heavyhanded symbolism.’ It hadn't been intended that way, so I changed it...
(The entire section is 794 words.)
SOURCE: Kaplan, Steven. “The Undying Certainty of the Narrator in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.” Critique 35, no. 1 (fall 1993): 43-52.
[In the following essay, Kaplan perceives The Things They Carried to be O'Brien's imaginative attempt to reveal and understand the uncertainties about the Vietnam War.]
Before the United States became militarily involved in defending the sovereignty of South Vietnam, it had to, as one historian recently put it, “invent” (Baritz 142-43) the country and the political issues at stake there. The Vietnam War was in many ways a wild and terrible work of fiction written by some dangerous and frightening storytellers. First the United States decided what constituted good and evil, right and wrong, civilized and uncivilized, freedom and oppression for Vietnam, according to American standards; then it traveled the long physical distance to Vietnam and attempted to make its own notions about these things clear to the Vietnamese people—ultimately by brute, technological force. For the U.S. military and government, the Vietnam that they had in effect invented became fact. For the soldiers that the government then sent there, however, the facts that their government had created about who was the enemy, what were the issues, and how the war was to be won were quickly overshadowed by a world of uncertainty. Ultimately, trying to stay alive long enough to...
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SOURCE: Smith, Lorrie N. “‘The Things Men Do’: The Gendered Subtext in Tim O'Brien's Esquire Stories.” Critique 36, no. 1 (fall 1994): 16-40.
[In the following essay, Smith examines the representations of masculinity and femininity in five of the stories in The Things They Carried.]
Tim O'Brien's 1990 book of interlocked stories, The Things They Carried, garnered one rave review after another, reinforcing O'Brien's already established position as one of the most important veteran writers of the Vietnam War. The Penguin paperback edition serves up six pages of superlative blurbs like “consummate artistry,” “classic,” “the best American writer of his generation,” “unique,” and “master work.” A brilliant metafictionist, O'Brien captures the moral and ontological uncertainty experienced by men at war, along with enough visceral realism to “make the stomach believe,” as his fictional narrator, Tim O'Brien, puts it. This narrator's name and the book's dedication to its own fictional characters are just two indications of how crafty and self-reflexive O'Brien can be about his representational and narrative strategies. By exposing so much of his own artifice, he seems to practice Michael Herr's much earlier recognition that after Vietnam there is “not much chance anymore for history to go on unself-consciously” (43). Yet, O'Brien—and his reviewers—seem...
(The entire section is 12221 words.)
SOURCE: Calloway, Catherine. “‘How to Tell a True War Story’: Metafiction in The Things They Carried.” Critique 36, no. 4 (summer 1995): 249-57.
[In the following essay, Calloway provides a stylistic analysis of The Things They Carried, regarding the volume as a work of contemporary metafiction.]
Tim O'Brien's most recent book, The Things They Carried, begins with a litany of items that the soldiers “hump” in the Vietnam War—assorted weapons, dog tags, flak jackets, ear plugs, cigarettes, insect repellent, letters, can openers, C-rations, jungle boots, maps, medical supplies, and explosives as well as memories, reputations, and personal histories. In addition, the reader soon learns, the soldiers also carry stories: stories that connect “the past to the future” (40), stories that can “make the dead talk” (261), stories that “never seem … to end” (83), stories that are “beyond telling” (79), and stories “that swirl back and forth across the border between trivia and bedlam, the mad and the mundane” (101). Although perhaps few of the stories in The Things They Carried are as brief as the well-known Vietnam War tale related by Michael Herr in Dispatches—“‘Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell us what happened,’”(6)—many are in their own way as enigmatic. The tales included in O'Brien's...
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SOURCE: Chen, Tina. “‘Unraveling the Deeper Meaning’: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O'Brien's The Thing They Carried.” Contemporary Literature 39, no. 1 (spring 1998): 77-97.
[In the following essay, Chen asserts that “exile as a fluid and inescapable experience resulting from immersion in the moral ambiguity of the Vietnam War infects all aspects of the stories” in The Things They Carried.]
Tim O'Brien is obsessed with telling a true war story. Truth, O'Brien's fiction about the Vietnam experience suggests, lies not in realistic depictions or definitive accounts. As O'Brien argues, “[a]bsolute occurrence is irrelevant” because “a true war story does not depend upon that kind of truth” (Things [The Things They Carried] 89). Committed to examining the relationship between the concrete and the imagined, O'Brien dismantles binaristic notions of “happening-truth” and “story-truth”: “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth” (89). In order to assess whether he has written fiction that is “truer than the truth,” O'Brien singles out the type of reaction his stories should provoke: “It comes down to gut instinct. A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe” (84). This emphasis on the body's visceral response to fiction aptly encapsulates O'Brien's...
(The entire section is 8054 words.)
SOURCE: Jarraway, David R. “‘Excremental Assault’ in Tim O'Brien: Trauma and Recover in Vietnam War Literature.” Modern Fiction Studies 44, no. 3 (fall 1998): 695-711.
[In the following essay, Jarraway analyzes three examples of O'Brien's depiction of trauma and recovery in The Things They Carried and explores the metaphor of excremental waste in relation to O'Brien's war experiences.]
“‘You know something?’” [Azar] said. His voice was wistful. “‘Out here, at night, I almost feel like a kid again. The Vietnam experience. I mean, wow, I love this shit.’”
—Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
“The excremental is all too intimately and inseparably bound up with the sexual; the position of the genitals—inter urinas et faeces—remains the decisive and unchangeable factor.”
—Sigmund Freud, Complete Letters
“[Kathy Wade] remembered opening her robe to the humid night air. There was a huge and desperate wanting in her heart, wanting without object, pure wanting.”
—Tim O'Brien, In the Lake of the Woods
“If at the end of a war story,” Tim O'Brien writes in his second Vietnam novel, The Things They Carried...
(The entire section is 6431 words.)
SOURCE: Campbell, Christopher D. “Conversation across a Century: The War Stories of Ambrose Bierce and Tim O'Brien.” WLA: War, Literature & the Arts 10, no. 2 (fall-winter 1998): 267-88.
[In the following essay, Campbell finds similarities between the The Things They Carried and the war stories of Ambrose Bierce.]
There is a certain brotherhood of warriors, a commonality of experience, that transcends time and the differences between individual wars. The decision of whether to go to war or to avoid it, the task of conducting oneself appropriately in situations that have no parallels in peace, the frustrations that result from beholding waste and stupidity and death at close range, and the difficult transition to civilian life (provided one survives) are some of the principal elements that distinguish this fraternity.1 Frequently, members of this brotherhood will recount their experiences in memoirs or histories, but these accounts tend to be specific, personal, and dated—rooted in and limited by their attempt to recount factual truths. Rarely, however, a former soldier becomes a genuine writer—someone capable of translating his mundane reality into a transcendent fiction—someone who understands Tim O'Brien's dictum that “story-truth is truer sometimes than happening truth” (O'Brien 203). Two such men, separated in time by the passage of a century, but linked by...
(The entire section is 6372 words.)
SOURCE: O'Gorman, Farrell. “The Things They Carried as Composite Novel.” WLA: War, Literature & the Arts 10, no. 2 (fall-winter 1998): 289-309.
[In the following essay, O'Gorman examines The Things They Carried as a composite novel.]
I feel I'm experimenting all the time. But the difference is this: I am experimenting not for the joy of experimenting, but rather to explore meaning and themes and dramatic discovery … I don't enjoy tinkering for the joy of tinkering, and I don't like reading books merely for their artifice. I want to see things and explore moral issues when I read, not get hit over the head by the tools of the trade.
(Anything Can Happen 269)
Novels have a kind of continuity of plot or of narrative which this book does not have. But it would be unfair for me to say that it's a collection of stories; clearly all of the stories are related and the characters reappear and themes recur, and some of the stories refer back to others, and some refer forwards. I've thought of it as a work of fiction that is neither one nor the other.
(Missouri Review 96)
It would be more fun, it would be more instructive, it would be more artistic, more beautiful, to include as much as possible the whole of...
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SOURCE: King, Rosemary. “O'Brien's ‘How to Tell a True War Story’.” The Explicator 57, no. 3 (spring 1999): 182-84.
[In the following essay, King asserts that in “How to Tell a True War Story” O'Brien “lures readers into a debate over fact and fiction that ultimately privileges the latter.”]
The title of Tim O'Brien's short story “How to Tell a True War Story” is a pun. On one hand, O'Brien is asking how a listener can distinguish whether a story is a factual retelling of events; on the other he outlines “how to tell” a war story. The meaning of the title depends on the reader's position: If listening to a war story, the title suggests, O'Brien will help you to discern whether the story is real; if telling a war story, the title implies that O'Brien will show you how to narrate a story well. The title, however, defies paradigmatic balance. In other words, the reader is drawn into the role of storyteller as O'Brien works to untangle the relationship between fact and fiction.
O'Brien's word play in the title hinges on the definition of “true,” a word he uses alternately throughout the story to mean either factually accurate, or something higher and nobler. He does this through three embedded narratives: Mitchell Sanders's narration of Curt Lemon's death; the narrator's description of hearing Sanders's story; and Tim O'Brien's commentary on how to tell a true...
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SOURCE: Robinson, Daniel. “Getting It Right: The Short Fiction of Tim O'Brien.” Critique 40, no. 3 (spring 1999): 257-64.
[In the following essay, Robinson investigates O'Brien's approach to the truth in The Things They Carried.]
But it's true even if it didn't happen—
In his introduction to Men at War, Ernest Hemingway states that a “writer's job is tell the truth. His standard of fidelity to the truth should be so high that his inventions […] should produce a truer account than anything factual can be” (xi). Tim O'Brien, for whose writing the Vietnam War is the informing principle, returns to this notion of truth in his short fiction.1 His stories revolve around multiple centers of interest—at once stories in the truest sense, with a core of action and character, and also metafictional stories on the precise nature of writing war stories.
For O'Brien, like Hemingway in his introduction, the notion of absolute fidelity to facts almost becomes a non sequitur when considering truth. Facts might provide a chronology of events (and even then, we may disagree on the validity of the facts), but alone they cannot reveal the hidden truths found in a true war story. As Hemingway writes, facts “can be observed badly; but when a good writer is creating something, he has time and...
(The entire section is 4102 words.)
SOURCE: Volkmer, Jon. “Telling the ‘Truth’ about Vietnam: Episteme and Narrative Structure in The Green Berets and The Things They Carried.” WLA: War, Literature & the Arts 11, no. 1 (spring-summer 1999): 240-55.
[In the following essay, Volkmer compares and contrasts The Things They Carried and Robin Moore's The Green Berets, focusing on the way both authors treat the truth about the Vietnam War.]
Robin Moore's The Green Berets, published in 1965, is one of the earliest novels of the Vietnam conflict. Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (1990), is one of the more recent. Nevertheless, there are many similarities: both are novels-in-short-stories; both focus on American soldiers; both employ mainly jungle settings; and both feature a first-person narrator who is both one-of-the-guys AND separated from them by the status of being a writer. Moreover, each book makes an explicit claim that it tells the “truth” about the Vietnam conflict, a truth which each claims is only accessible through a fictive presentation of action and events.
My purpose is to interrogate the claims to ownership of “truth” in these two novels, and discuss how presumptions about the nature of “truth” affect the fictive shaping of the novel. By this comparison, I hope to show how these two novels form what might be called a set of bookends of the...
(The entire section is 5320 words.)
SOURCE: Horner, Carl S. “Challenging the Law of Courage and Heroic Identification in Tim O'Brien's If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried.” WLA: War, Literature & the Arts 11, no. 1 (spring-summer 1999): 256-67.
[In the following essay, Horner maintains that O'Brien challenges conventional ideas about courage and heroism in If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried.]
In his autobiographic text, If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me up and Ship Me Home, and in his novel, The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien questions the presumed sanctity of the oldest male law. Courage and masculinity, so-called “professionalism,” the “old order” (If I Die 192), grace under pressure, or the collective male psyche could, O'Brien writes, blind a man into stupidity during the Vietnam War. Not that he could always rely on published information or even rationally determine a wise course in the call of duty, but a citizen had the obligation to discover whether business leaders, politicians, and military officers had moral, legal, and therefore truly evident causes for sanctioning violence in Vietnam. Blind or obsessive duty for the sake of honor, God, and country might be bravery to a fault, or nothing more than “manliness, crudely idealized” (If I Die 142).
Courage is only one part of virtue, O'Brien explains,...
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SOURCE: McDonough, Christopher Michael. “‘Afraid to Admit We Are Not Achilles’: Facing Hector's Dilemma in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.”1Classical and Modern Literature 20, no. 3 (spring 2000): 23-32.
[In the following essay, McDonough utilizes “the tragedy of Hector” from the Iliad to glean insight into The Things They Carried.]
“The war, like Hector's own war, was silly and stupid.”
—Tim O'Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone, 145
What has Troy to do with Vietnam? In recent years, the pertinence of the one Asian war to the other has been powerfully argued by numerous scholars, notably Jonathan Shay, in his seminal study, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York: Athenaeum, 1994), as well as by various authors responding to Shay in a special issue of Classical Bulletin 71.2 (1995), “Understanding Achilles.” As can be seen in the titles here mentioned, the critical emphasis has generally been laid on the experience of Achilles, while little attention has focused on what James Redfield once called “the tragedy of Hector.” Some discussion of the great Trojan hero might prove useful, however, especially for understanding Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, one of the finest works of American literature to emerge from...
(The entire section is 3872 words.)
SOURCE: Timmerman, John H. “Tim O'Brien and the Art of the True War Story: ‘Night March’ and ‘Speaking of Courage’.” Twentieth Century Literature 46, no. 1 (spring 2000): 100-14.
[In the following essay, Timmerman compares the conflict between the reality of war and normal life as portrayed in “Night March” and “Speaking of Courage,” which appear in The Things They Carried.]
The Vietnam war story is not simply about the rise and fall of nations (South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Laos, China, Thailand, the United States, the Soviet Union). Rather, it is about the rise and fall of the dreams of individual soldiers—their hopes riddled by disillusionment, their fantasies broken by shrapnel-edged realities. In his Fighting and Writing the Vietnam War, Don Rignalda observes that Washington engaged in the war as a clinical and statistical commodity: “We imposed a carpentered reality on a country (South Vietnam) that wasn't a country at all, but merely a recent, diplomatically created abstraction run by a series of corrupt puppets. Oblivious, Americans became ‘cartomaniacs’ in Vietnam” (14). Having reduced the Washington-created enemy to ciphers, the cartomaniacs did precisely the same thing to the American soldier. In a war fought according to statistics, and where ciphers are thrown against ciphers, who is left to tell the true war story? Who enters the lives and uncovers the...
(The entire section is 6596 words.)
SOURCE: Heberle, Mark A. “True War Stories.” In A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam, pp. 176-215. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Heberle provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of The Things They Carried and locates the book within O'Brien's oeuvre.]
RECIRCULATED TRAUMA, ENDLESS FICTION
After publishing his fable of nuclear age trauma in 1985, O'Brien's next novel was to have been The People We Marry, a work that eventually appeared as In the Lake of the Woods in 1994 (Kaplan 1995: 218). In the interim, however, he published several short stories, some set in Viet Nam and others in the United States but all related to the war. The shorter stories took on a life of their own and eventually a comprehensive form that became The Things They Carried, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1990, four years before the novel that was to have followed The Nuclear Age. Its award-winning title story, which appeared in 1986, was the first part of the larger work to be published. In 1989, just before its publication, O'Brien called Things [The Things They Carried] the best thing he had yet written (Naparsteck 8), and he has noted how much he enjoyed putting together the book as a whole. Indeed, reviewers greeted The Things They Carried as O'Brien's triumphant return to form after...
(The entire section is 16676 words.)
SOURCE: Wesley, Marilyn. “Truth and Fiction in Tim O'Brien's If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried.” College Literature 29, no. 2 (spring 2002): 1-18.
[In the following essay, Wesley contrasts O'Brien's representation of the truth in If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried.]
The requirement of truth as a faithful portrayal of unique experience is the standard most consistently applied to the literature of the Vietnam War. In his discussion of memoirs of the war, J. T. Hansen observes that all the writers he studied shared the objective of “authenticity,” an authority based on “knowledge of the war they experienced” (1990, 134-35). Similarly, Donald Ringnalda points out that for the former soldiers, who are the most exacting audience for the Vietnam story, the standard of evaluation is “accuracy, factualness, faithful attention to details” (1990, 65). Nevertheless, as Lorrie Smith argues, verisimilitude has “no inherent value” if the text does not also examine “the cultural assumptions which animate and give meaning to its images” (1990, 90). In The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry theorizes a basis for this discrepancy by explaining that narrative rendition is an integral component of war because the story of war is the exposition of a special kind of violence: deliberate violence that in turn provokes narrative deliberation....
(The entire section is 7979 words.)