Introduction to The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried is a novel by Tim O’Brien, inspired by O’Brien’s experiences while deployed during the Vietnam War. Published in 1990, the novel is made up of a series of interconnected short stories that focus on the lives and, in some cases, deaths of the members of a fictional American platoon called the Alpha Company. O’Brien positions himself as the narrator and central character, and he blends factual events with fictional ones in an effort to convey the emotional truths that a straightforward recounting of events cannot.

The Things They Carried was met with widespread acclaim, and it received numerous awards and nominations, including a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. Its unique blend of fact and fiction, described by O’Brien as “story truth” and “happening truth,” has sparked discussions about the value of fiction in expressing emotional and subjective experiences. The Things They Carried is often compared to O’Brien’s first novel, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, a more straightforward autobiography. Both works explore themes surrounding the meaning of courage, conviction versus duty, and the emotional weight of war, but it is the metafictional leanings of The Things They Carried that have cemented its place within the American literary conscience.

A Brief Biography of Tim O’Brien

Tim O’Brien (born 1946) is an American writer and teacher, best known for his writings about and criticism of the Vietnam War. He was born in Minnesota and later studied political science at Macalester College. Shortly after graduating in 1968, O’Brien was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Many of his later writings, including his memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, were based on his wartime experiences. Almost all of O’Brien’s works are explicitly critical of the war, from its inception to the methods employed by the US Government throughout its duration. They also often focus on the notion of war stories and verisimilitude, or the relationship between reality and fiction. His best-known work, the 1990 novel The Things They Carried, explicitly blends documented facts, anecdotal stories, and fiction. O’Brien does so in order to make the case that sometimes a fabricated story is more capable of expressing an emotional or personal truth than an objective recounting of events.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried

In "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien—who is the author and, in fictionalized form, the narrator—relates the physical objects and emotional baggage carried by Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat...

Latest answer posted November 7, 2020, 3:14 pm (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried is classified as fiction, though it contains a considerable amount of autobiographical material. How much of it is actually fictional is a difficult question, and this is...

Latest answer posted November 6, 2020, 11:33 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien, who presents a fictionalized version of himself in The Things They Carried, might well resist the idea that the book has one overall message. It is arguable that he resists the idea...

Latest answer posted November 6, 2020, 11:50 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

In situations of conflict, it's common for soldiers to give themselves injuries in order to avoid fighting. Such injuries are intended to be serious enough to get the soldier transferred out of a...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2020, 11:56 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

Rat Kiley hugs O'Brien in the story "The Ghost Soldiers." Strictly speaking, Rat Kiley does not exactly hug O'Brien, but he does nearly hug him, and for someone like Rat, that is pretty unusual. As...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2020, 11:45 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

In "The Man I Killed," Tim O'Brien, who portrays a fictionalized version of himself, describes the dead body of a Vietnamese soldier in great detail and writes about his own sensations after...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2020, 11:52 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

In "Love," the second short story in The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien describes a reunion with Jimmy Cross years after they have returned from Vietnam. The two men spend some time reminiscing,...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2020, 11:26 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

In Tim O'Brien's collection of post–Vietnam War short stories, The Things They Carried, the narrator, a fictional version of the author, first mentions Linda in the fourth story of the collection,...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2020, 4:19 pm (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

Ted Lavender adopts an orphan puppy. He carries it around in his rucksack and feeds it with a plastic spoon. But the bond that develops between Ted and his puppy ends when Azar straps the poor...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2020, 11:56 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

"The Dentist" centers around Curt Lemon. O'Brien and Curt are working together in an area of operations in the South China Sea colloquially known as the "Rocket Pocket." At first, it seems like a...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2020, 11:41 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

As with all kinds of candy, M&Ms does not have any medical properties but can have what is called a placebo effect. This means that they can make people feel better without in any way affecting...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2020, 11:27 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien, who portrays a fictionalized version of himself in The Things They Carried, discusses why he went to war in the story "On the Rainy River." He says that a month after graduating from...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2020, 11:21 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

At the beginning of "How to Tell a True War Story," Rat Kiley writes to the sister of his friend, Curt Lemon, who has just been killed in Vietnam. Kiley writes at length about what a fantastic...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2020, 12:11 pm (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

In The Things They Carried, two consecutive short stories, "The Man I Killed" and "Ambush," describe Tim O'Brien's killing of a young Vietnamese soldier. O'Brien, who portrays a fictionalized...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2020, 11:44 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

In "The Things They Carried," the first story in the collection of the same title, Tim O'Brien talks about the objects literally carried by his fellow soldiers in Vietnam, their metaphorical...

Latest answer posted November 7, 2020, 11:36 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

One striking thing about the men of Alpha Company is the way they handle the deaths of their comrades. For the most part, they try to make light of the situation. They do this not because they're...

Latest answer posted November 7, 2020, 11:46 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

Bob "Rat" Kiley is the medic of Alpha Company, the platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War in Tim O'Brien's 1990 short story collection, The Things They Carried. The narrator—a fictional...

Latest answer posted November 7, 2020, 3:38 pm (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

In The Things They Carried, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is depicted as a young man amongst other young men, his thoughts mainly occupied with Martha, a girl he loves who does not return his...

Latest answer posted November 7, 2020, 12:19 pm (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

Like a lot of soldiers serving on the front line in Vietnam, Ted Lavender takes drugs in order to help him deal with the horrors of war. As O'Brien makes it clear from the outset, Ted is scared of...

Latest answer posted November 7, 2020, 11:23 am (UTC)

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The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried tends to get challenged or even removed from school libraries due to its mature content. Taking place during the Vietnam War, the book chronicles the experiences of young...

Latest answer posted November 6, 2020, 12:42 pm (UTC)

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Summary