In Tim O'Brien's work The Things They Carried, what are the themes, the tones, and the narrative styles of the chapter titled "Field Trip"?

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The linked series of short stories The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a fictional account of the author's experiences as part of a platoon fighting in the Vietnam War. "Field Trip" is about a return trip to Vietnam twenty years later that O'Brien makes with his ten-year-old daughter....

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The linked series of short stories The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a fictional account of the author's experiences as part of a platoon fighting in the Vietnam War. "Field Trip" is about a return trip to Vietnam twenty years later that O'Brien makes with his ten-year-old daughter. In it, O'Brien refers to another story in the collection, "In the Field," a horrific account of an encounter with the enemy in excrement-filled mire in which Kiowa, one of O'Brien's companions, is killed.

O'Brien has returned to the site of Kiowa's death, but everything has changed. The field is smaller than he remembers and is mostly dry. There are yellow butterflies, grass, sunlight, blue sky, and a breeze. Significantly, O'Brien mentions that there are no ghosts and it is quiet and peaceful.

"Field Trip" is told in a simple, straightforward narrative style. O'Brien's intention is to contrast this setting in its present form with the nightmarish attack when O'Brien was at war in this same field. One of the themes involves this contrast between the horrific fighting of twenty years previously with the peaceful pastoral village farming life to which this area has reverted. O'Brien also shows the difference between the way that he perceives this area, with all the terrible memories attached to it, and the way that his daughter sees it, as simple a smelly place in the middle of nowhere.

The tone throughout the story is contemplative. O'Brien makes clear the main theme of the story at the beginning and again at the end. He wants to find peace with the memories of this place and the death of his friend. In the first paragraph he writes: "I looked for signs of forgiveness or personal grace or whatever else the land might offer." In the end, it seems that he has found what he has been looking for, because he says, "All that's finished."

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In Tim O’Brien’s work titled The Things They Carried, the chapter titled “Field Trip” can be analyzed in terms of its themes, its tones, and its narrative styles. Such analysis might be outlined as follows:

THEMES

  • Two themes of the chapter are announced in the opening sentence: “forgiveness or personal grace.”
  • Memory is another key theme of the chapter.
  • History – both national and personal – is another theme.
  • Another key theme is the difference between generations, especially between this father and his daughter.
  • Another theme is explanation, as the narrator tries to explain to his daughter (and to us) his memories and his motives.
  • Another theme involves coming to terms with the past – trying to put the past behind one, or at least into proper perspective.
  • Another theme involves paying respect to the dead, particularly the dead soldier named Kiowa.

TONES

  • The tone is partly autobiographical, as the opening sentence suggests.
  • One of the tones is lyrical, as in the description of the fields, the butterflies, and the attractive blue sky.
  • Another tone is honesty, as when the narrator explains to his daughter that the main thing he wanted during the war was to stay alive.
  • Another tone is meditative, as the narrator ponders the past and tries to come to terms with his memories of the war.
  • One more tone is ironic, as the narrator implicitly contrasts his own strongly emotional reactions to the field with the indifferent, even sarcastic reactions of his young daughter.

NARRATIVE STYLES

  • One style of the chapter involves personal reminiscence.
  • Realism is another style of this chapter, especially when the narrator describes the difficulties of getting to the destination he depicts.
  • Another style involves the simple, colloquial dialogue between father and daughter.
  • One effective style of this chapter involves the occasional use of evocative lists, as in the following passage:

There were birds and butterflies, the soft rustlings of rural-anywhere. Below, in the earth, the relics of our presence were no doubt still there, the canteens and bandoliers and mess kits. This little field, I thought, had swallowed so much. My best friend. My pride. My belief in myself as a man of some small dignity and courage. [emphasis added]

  • Another effective stylistic technique involves ironic juxtapositions, as in the following quotation, where deep contemplation is set against trivial fun:

I pictured Kiowa's face, the way he used to smile, but all I felt was the awkwardness of remembering.

Behind me, Kathleen let out a little giggle. The interpreter was showing her magic tricks.

Neither the daughter nor the interpreter, of course, have any idea the depth of feeling that is burdening the narrator's mind; nevertheless, the sudden switch from that feeling to Kathleen's giggle and the interpreter's magic tricks is startling and ironic.

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