Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

O’Brien likes to bring into question the status of stories as stories. The blending of fact and fiction is one of his stylistic trademarks. This can be seen, for example, in the two different versions of “The Ghost Soldiers.” The main protagonist in the original version is named Herb, and the first page of the story in Esquire magazine clearly states that the story is a work of fiction. However, when the story was reprinted in The Things They Carried, the narrator had been renamed Tim in alignment with the other stories of that collection. O’Brien’s style is to not resolve this apparent contradiction, for the key issue is still the power of stories to tell truthful things about people, their lives, and their emotions. It matters little if Herb is really a stand-in for the author; what matters is what the story says about men in combat. It can be hard enough to try to express the feelings and emotions of battle-induced stress to those who have never experienced them. For O’Brien, it is more important to go beyond surface-level veracity to try to give the reader a sense of the core truths of combat.

O’Brien is also known for the psychological rendering of soldiers’ lives in the Vietnam War. “The Ghost Soldiers” does not try to be universal. It and many other of O’Brien’s stories stand in marked contrast to many other war stories. By giving the reader insight into what was going on in Herb’s mind, the reader can...

(The entire section is 426 words.)