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The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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What are the themes, tones, and narrative styles in "In the Field" from The Things They Carried?

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

THEMES

  • One theme of the chapter involves the sheer physical unpleasantness of war.
  • Comradeship in wartime is another theme, as is suggested by the focus, in the first paragraph, on finding Kiowa’s body.
  • Another theme is the harshness of nature; the presentation of nature here can hardly be called naïve or Romantic.
  • Another theme involves the tendency of soldiers – especially those in responsibility – to ponder and agonize over the decisions they have made, especially if those decisions have resulted in a loss of a comrade’s life.
  • Another theme involves the tensions that often arise among comrades during a time of war.
  • Another theme involves the ability of the human mind to be in two places at once – one place where it “really” is, another place that preoccupies its thoughts and memories, as in Lieutenant Cross’s various thoughts and recollections about the United States.

TONES

  • One tone of the chapter is grimly realistic – a tone implied in the chapter’s very first sentence.
  • Another tone is moralistic, as when Lieutenant Cross continually reflects on the goodness and decency of his lost comrade.
  • Irony is another tone of this chapter, as is made clear from Azar’s comments.

NARRATIVE STYLES

  • One style featured is this chapter is a style that might be called vulgar or obscene by some but that O’Brien would probably call honest, as in the repeated use of the term “shit field.”
  • One stylistic method featured in this chapter might be termed “stream of consciousness,” as when impressions seem to overwhelm normal grammar and syntax, as in the flow of fragments in the following passage:

And Kiowa had been a splendid human being, the very best, intelligent and gentle and quiet-spoken. Very brave, too. And decent.

  • Another stylistic method used in this chapter involves emphatically brief paragraphs.  Thus as one point an extremely long and detailed paragraph concerning Kiowa’s death is followed immediately by the following extremely brief paragraph: “A crime, Jimmy Cross thought.” This sentence --  a fragment, really, rather than a sentence – receives all the more stress because it is so brief and abrupt.
  • Another aspect of the style of this chapter involves the chapter’s emphasis on vivid sense impressions, including those of touch, sight, hearing, and smell, as in the following sentence:

The rain made quick dents in the water, like tiny mouths, and the stink was everywhere.

 

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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 "Field Trip"?

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 The Things They Carried, what are the themes, the tones, and the narrative styles of the chapter titled "Field Trip"?

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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What are the theme, the tone, and the purpose of the chapter titled "Notes" in Tim O'Brien's work The Things They Carried?

The chapter titled “Notes” in Tim O’Brien’s work titled The Things They Carried can be discussed in terms of its themes, tones, and purposes.

THEMES

  • One obvious theme of the chapter concerns the ways in which different veterans of the Vietnam War dealt with their returns home from that conflict. The chapter shows that O’Brien’s return was basically successful, but the chapter also shows that Norman Bowker’s return was tragic in various ways.
  • Another major theme of the chapter concerns how to present the war in writing, especially in fiction.
  • A third major theme of the chapter involves relations with one’s fellow veterans, especially those with whom one actually served and who actually shared the same experiences and friendships.

TONES

  • One of the tones of this chapter is elegiac, especially since the chapter both opens and closes with references to Norman Bowker’s death.
  • Another tone of the chapter is tragic, since Bowker’s death was not natural or accidental but resulted from suicide.
  • Another tone is meditative or reflective, as O’Brien ponders the proper way to tell and write about the experiences he and others endured in Vietnam.
  • One more tone is vividly colloquial, especially when O'Brien quotes from Norman Bowker's own words.
  • Finally, an additional tone is ironic, as we realize the potential and the goodness Norman Bowker possessed but also realize that his goodness and potential were lost to others through his unfortunate early death. Perhaps one of the most ironic moments in the chapter occurs when O’Brien quotes from a letter written by Bowker’s mother in which she discusses her son’s suicide:

There was no suicide note, no message of any kind. “Norman was a quiet boy,” his mother wrote, “and I don’t suppose he wanted to bother anybody.”

One realizes here Norman’s decency, his kindness, his reserve, and the affection he inspired in his mother – all factors that make his premature death seem all the more ironic.

PURPOSES

  • One purpose of the chapter is to allow O’Brien to pay tribute to Norman Bowker and other men like him.
  • Another purpose of the chapter is to allow Bowker, in a sense, to speak for himself, since a long piece of his own letter is quoted.
  • Another purpose of the chapter is to encourage readers to reflect on the suffering of many of those who served in Vietnam.
  • Finally, one more purpose of the chapter is to allow O’Brien to explain his thoughts about his writing, including its successes and self-perceived failures.

 

 

 

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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"?

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:

THEMES

  • 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.

TONES

  • 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.

NARRATIVE STYLES

  • 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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