How to Tell a True War Story Questions and Answers
by Tim O’Brien

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What is the symbolism of "How to Tell a True War Story"?

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One of the narrator's friends in the army, Mitchell Sanders, has a yo-yo, and there are several mentions of the toy throughout the story, and generally speaking, repetitive mentions of material objects often signal some kind of symbolism.

First, the narrator describes how Curt Lemon and Rat Kiley would play catch with smoke grenades, while "Mitchell Sanders sat flipping his yo-yo." Suddenly, Sanders rolled up the yo-yo and went away. Just after this, Lemon got blown up by the landmine.

Second, Sanders is the soldier who tells the narrator the story about the six-man patrol going up into the mountains and hearing the strange music and voices, as if they were near a cocktail party. As Sanders tells the story, he is "working the yo-yo," as if it seems to keep him calm, or grounded somehow. The narrator says that he could tell that Sanders really wanted him to believe the story, even though it was quite true, and he says, "Even now I remember that yo-yo."

Third, the narrator describes the...

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