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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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What role does literature play in the memory of war, as exemplified in "The Refugees" and "The Things They Carried"? Does the form of literature and storytelling style affect this?

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The Things They Carried is a great example of literature that questions human memory and perception. This novel is a historically fictive account of the Vietnam War that challenges the reader's perception of truth. Tim O'Brien, a Vietnam veteran, wrote this novel in an attempt to convey to civilians the reality of wartime. To do so, O'Brien developed a fictive truth about the war. He believed that in order for civilians to feel anything close to what he felt, he would have to tell a story that built upon the truth. The novel's narrator says,

I want you to feel what I felt. I want you know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.

O'Brien's war stories differ greatly from traditional romanticized accounts of the war because he writes a truthful account of the horror and obscenity of war. This truthful account is not necessarily fact, but it is true in the emotions it evokes in the reader.

In answering this question, it may be useful to consider how Viet Thanh Nguyen uses truth and memory in The Refugees. Some questions to explore are the following:

How does the refugee experience relate to the veteran experience?

What are the tools each author uses to convey truth?

How does truth relate to memory?

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