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The Things They Carried

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

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


  • One theme of this chapter involves autobiography, as the chapter’s second sentence illustrates.
  • Another theme involves the complex relationships between fact and fiction, reality and the imagination, what “really” happened and what has simply been invented.
  • Yet another theme involves feelings of responsibility and guilt, especially as those feelings are felt by soldiers.


  • One tone the speaker tries to establish immediately is a tone of blunt honesty, as in the very first sentence.
  • Another tone of this chapter is an informal tone, as the opening sentence of the chapter also illustrates. Another manifestation of the informal tone of this chapter involves the use of contractions, as when the narrator says,

But it’s not a game. It’s a form.

  • Another, very prominent tone of this chapter involves irony and paradox, as when the narrator claims that although he was indeed once a foot soldier in Vietnam,

Almost everything else [in his narrative] is invented.

The ironic, paradoxical tone of the chapter is emphasized again when the narrator shortly says, “But listen. Even that story [the story he has just told us] is made up.” Finally, another example of the paradoxical tone of this chapter occurs in its final three sentences.

  • Another tone might be called horrific or graphic, as when the narrator mentions a dead man whose “jaw was in his throat.”
  • Partly the tone of the chapter is philosophical, as the narrator tries to work out for himself the distinctions and similarities between what he calls “story-truth” and “happening-truth” and as he tries to explain those distinctions to his readers.


  • One style of this chapter might be called direct address. Thus, in the very opening sentence of the chapter, the narrator seems to speak directly to the reader. Later, the narrator directly and repeatedly addresses readers as “you.”
  • The overall style of this chapter is simple, clear, and straightforward. The narrator uses no fancy words or complicated sentence structures. Instead, the phrasing is direct and lucid.
  • Parts of the style of this chapter recall the style of Ernest Hemingway, with its very plain language and its emphasis on repetition, as in the following sentences:

I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look.

  • Another style of this chapter might be called rhythmical, as in the sentence beginning “I can attach faces . . .,” in which the narrator lists a series of important nouns and heavily accents each of them.


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