Is the fictional character Tim O'Brien actually the narrator? How is this realized?
I understand he receives his draft notice and tries to run but then honors his obligation. I think that when he reappers at 43, post war trying to make sense of the war by writing stories and returning to vietnam with his daughter concludes that he is indeed the narrator. The chronological order of the story is jumbled to me. I am having difficulty figuring out how it is understood that he is the narraor.
Your confusion as to whether O'Brien is actually the author is one shared by a large number of people.
O'Brien's work was first published in Esquire in August, 1986. A year later he was published in a literary collected entitled, The Best American Short Stories 1987. ''The Things They Carried'' is the name of a short story he wrote, which ultimately became not only the first story, but the title of his collection of stories in Viking Penguin's 1990 publication.
Tim O'Brien has established himself as a strong literary voice and a leading author in Vietnam literature, but neither critics nor readers have been able to ascertain with certainty whether the events in the book are true or the result of O'Brien's imagination.
O'Brien stated (paradoxically) in interviews that the truth in literature has nothing to do with actual events, but studies comparing his experiences in the Vietnam War with his stories show obvious similarities.
The story “The Things They Carried” is told in the third person about Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, a member of the infantry. In the story, the narrator lists the items the soldiers "carry with them." Among the things Cross literally carries with him, he also carries "the responsibility for the lives of his men.''
With this in mind, I cannot help but believe that O'Brien uses the stories of his comrades in battle to tell their stories, and that in doing so, he fulfills the need of Cross's character to do that which O'Brien is compelled to do: to assume the responsibility for the lives of his men, even if only telling their stories, to make their who they were “real,” and their sacrifices meaningful.
However, as O'Brien has not come out and clarified where he fits into the stories he has written, I do not know if anyone can be completely certain as to whether the stories are autobiographical. From his point of view, however, I would guess that this doesn't concern him as much as telling the stories of these men.