A compare and contrast Analysis of “The Metamorphosis” and “The Things They Carried”

Society’s alienation and misunderstanding of humanity can transform once life, both Gregor Samsa and Norman Bowker suffered from isolation. Freedom is truly conquered when one is at full peace spiritually; one can be imprisoned in its own thoughts, desires and memories. To follow I will provide examples form both narrative texts were both characters are imprisoned in their own thoughts, desires and memories. In the process of discovering true freedom Gregor is pressured by society and his family to support them after his father lost his job.

“At the time Gregor’s sole desire was to do his utmost to help the family to forget as soon as possible the catastrophe that had overwhelmed the business and thrown them all into a state of complete desire.” Trapped in a jam box where he must be exceptional, with a work mentality to support the family.

Hating his job as a travelling salesman, but must continue doing it to pay off his parents’ debts all he talks about is how exhausting the job is, how irritating it is to be always travelling: making train connections, sleeping in strange beds, always dealing with new people and never getting to make new friends or even a loved one.

We can see this on the text when he has the magazine cover instead of a real picture with a friend or a loved one (pg 89). “ Hung the picture which he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and put into a pretty gilt frame. It showed a lady, with a fur cap on and a fur stole, sitting upright and holding out to the spectator a huge fur muff into wich the whole of her forearm had vanished!”

Leaving behind his desires as a human being all he will think about was his father’s debt and how much he will have to work to help his family. Gregor had earned so much money that he was able to meet the whole family expenses. We can see evidence in the text on (pg 111). “They had simply got used to it, both the family and Gregor; the money was gratefully accepted and gladly given, but there was no special uprush of warm feeling.”

His family has used Gregors noble hearth for their own benefit, for comfort since he was able to meet the whole family’s expenses and in returned cold hard words, and isolation were given to him, no love. No true family love disgusted by the truth cockroach he had become, an animal treated like one left in the dust, completely alone slowly becoming a curse in his sister’s eyes and the rest of the family. We can see some of the sister’s rejection toward Gregor when she brings in the food on (pg 107). “ But his sister at once noticed, with surprise, that the basin was still full, except for a little milk that had been spilled all around it, she lifted it immediately, not with her bare hands, true, but with a cloth and carried it away.”

Trapped inside a body that repulses his family months passed by and Gregor is physically and mentally abused by his father several times, starving for true family love. At the end of the text when Gregor finds humanity, he feels no shame about anything or anybody he moves toward the music fights towards something that he felt passion about without thinking about the others. Is when Gregor truly understand the meaning of freedom and what it is to be human. On the other hand Norman Bowker and courage soldier, a survivor from the Vietnam War who fought for our freedom. A true warrior earned 7 medals in his soldier journey and he will not see the greatest in him.

Having difficulty adjusting to everyday life in the late afternoon on the Fourth of July holiday, Norman drives around the lake on his dads Chevy for hours, passing time and thinking about his life before the war, as his memories from Vietnam. He remembers driving around the lake with Sally before the war thinking about how his friends have gotten married or moved away to find jobs. Complete alone, isolated from his family and the world he imagines a conversation with his dad. We can see that Norman Bowker has no pride in him constantly putting himself down like it was no brave thing to accomplish the 7 medals on (pg 162).

“Well this one time, this one night out by the river… I wasn’t very brave.”

“ You have seven medals.”

“ Seven. Count ‘em. You weren’t a coward either.”
“ Well, maybe not. But I had the chance and I blew it. The stink, that’s what go to me. I couldn’t take a goddamn awful smell.”

Norman continues to drive around the lake while listening to the radio and thinks more about courage and cowardice was something small and stupid. Thinking about the incident that led up to Kiowa’s death on that rainy shit field and recalls the scene with great detail as the memories play again and again in his mind. Torturing him every second, thinking that he could have done more, and extra effort would have saved him and putting the guilt on him. His consciences was stronger them him unable to cope with his life, trapped in thoughts. The war was over and his not free, his locked in in his horrible memory punishing him every second of his life, complete alone from the world and eventually killed himself. He hanged himself.

Overall both text Frank Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis and The Things They Carried contributed me to a better constructive symbol of what means to be human since we see the downfalls and rises from each character. Gregor provides the strength to fight for your beliefs for what moves you in life as a person. I realized that one has to enjoy life have friends spend time with their love ones and grow as a person, not just work because at the end you may never know what can happen and Norman Bowker taught me that we have to be at peace with our sol and mind, learning to forgive ourselves to turn the page of that horrible experience we had in life, even if sometimes can take a life time.

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brian

“One can never truly know oneself because each new experience adds to an individual’s identity, no matter how grand or minute the experience.” Identity is the physical and mental properties of and individual including their culture or traditions. Everyone has their own identity which allows us to be different. It is the value and norms that describes ones-self. In the story, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brian, identity plays a big role in each characters life. As readers, we are introduced to a group of young soldiers that are currently in the war.

Each soldier carries several valuable artifacts which symbolizes content within their lives. These artifacts vary from food to drugs and even weapons. Although each solder is involved with an extremely difficult circumstance, the materials give them a little piece of happiness and strive them to continue on their journey. In the first chapter of “The Things They Carried”, the plot revolves around a man by the name of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, a young soldier who is infatuated by a girl named Martha.

Throughout the novel, Cross identity shifts from being infatuated to becoming a leader. Martha has an extremely powerful impact on Cross. She writes letters which never mentions the war or her love for him. Cross takes pride in this and allows himself to become distracted by the thoughts of her. An example of this occurs when he “wonder[s] if Martha was a virgin” (2). Cross was distracted by the thought of Martha; he did not seem to realize that the more he thought of her, the less aware he was of his fellow soldiers. Cross is even willing to go to an extreme degree in order to feel close to her with Martha occurs with the envelope. “He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there” (1). He’d do anything just to feel close to her, which was much more than love. Cross is allowing himself to be taken over by the thought of a woman and leave his men behind. The turning point in his identity occurs with the death of Ted Lavender, a fellow soldier.

Lavender makes a brief but important appearance in the story. His death has a huge affect on Cross, in which he begins to blame himself. “He pictured Martha’s smooth young face, thinking he loved her more than anything, more than his men, and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her”. Cross feels as if he has full responsibility of Lavenders death because he allowed himself to be deluded by Martha. Guilt overcame Cross, and he realized that he had let his soldiers down. “He felt shame, He heated himself. He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war” (6). Cross feels shameful for not taking responsibility and completing his job. Based on everything that occurred, it allowed him to gain recognition and find the strength to lead.

As a result of Lavenders death, Cross has an epiphany. He gained recognition of his wrongdoings and began to turn his life around. In order to move on Cross had to get rid of anything that involved Martha, which led to burning all the letters. “Cross crouched at the bottom of his foxhole and burned Martha’s letters. Then he burned the two photographs” (23). At one point he treasured these items, once he burned them it symbolized recognition and forgetting about Martha as a whole. Cross reminded himself that his obligation was not to be loved but to lead. “He would not tolerate laxity. He would show strength distancing himself” (5). Cross is now a leader and no longer distracted. He follows the rules and regulations which made up for his mistakes, even though it was a tad bit late.

His identity shifts when he realizes his mistakes. Overall Lieutenant Jimmy Cross identity shifts from being infatuated to becoming a leader. In the beginning of the novel, he was extremely obsessed with Martha and distracted by the thought of her which made him unable to complete his job. It took the death of Ted Lavender for him to realized his actions. Once he realized this he changed for the better and took on the role of being a leader. Cross put his men first and became less distracted by his love life. Although Martha had a huge impact on the daily life of Cross. Fortunately without her, he would have never learned a valuable lesson about life which is to never lose sight of what’s really important.

Works Cited
O’Brian, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York; NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Print.

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien


The intention of the following text is to elaborate the use of meta-fiction and narrative layering in Tim OʼBrienʼs The Things They Carried through writing a narrated interview with Tim OʼBrien regarding Part Fourʼs study: Literature and Critical Study. Using quotations/transcriptions of Tim OʼBrienʼs statements within the fictional interview will support the structure of the text accordingly as a narration of an interview. First, I will address Tim OʼBrienʼs brief biography regarding his career, education and works.

The narration will continue with an introduction from the interviewer, briefly regarding his works and the incorporation of observed application of meta-fiction and narrative layering. Then, a personal acknowledgement of the use of meta-fiction and narrative layering in his work, The Things They Carried, will be mentioned discreetly and indirectly.

Several techniques used to break down Tim OʼBrienʼs work in aims to identify the usage of these literary devices will be addressed – then the narration will be preceded by several questions and answers addressing the application, role, and purpose of the usage of meta-fiction and narrative layering; this will be supported by direct contextual examples from the text studied.

A brief re-cap on the definitions of both literary devices will be addressed. The closing of the interview aims to emphasize the coherent application and purpose of these techniques in the intervieweeʼs work.

Narrated Fictional Interview

Tim OʼBrien, an American citizen, is acknowledged as a novelist and/or a short story writer. He is highly recognized for his work, The Things They Carried. His works are under the genre of memoirs and war stories, more specifically those correlated with the Vietnam War, or as he would refer to it as the Vietnam Conflict. Neal Conan and Michiko Kakutani defines his work, The Things They Carried, as “a critically acclaimed collection of semiautobiographical, inter-related short-stories inspired by O’Brien’s experiences in the Vietnam War.” A stellar student, he was the president of the student body and earned his degree in Political Science in 1968 – after he graduated, instead of paving his own career path, he was drafted to join the United States Army. Sent to Vietnam, he was on duty until the 1970s. After his duty, he continued his studies in Harvard University, which lead him to his career as a writer. After being drafted and earning his graduate school degree, Tim OʼBrien wrote in his memoir, “Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories.” And so he did just that, he told war stories.

Having the privilege of interviewing him personally, I addressed and accredited him for his excellent works – both for serving in Vietnam and his works as a writer. I planned to ask him regarding his work, The Things They Carried, to ask him regarding the observations of the usage of meta-fiction and narrative layering. I thought to myself in the beginning of the interview, how ironic it was to ask him about his experiences in the Vietnam War (or Vietnam Conflict) while I already read an entire book based upon his personal war stories. I decided to address my ironic thoughts and he responded, “Didnʼt you realize? The ʻTimʼ I mentioned repeatedly in the book, is not based on me, Tim OʼBrien, itʼs a fictional character I embedded within the book! I honestly, did not refer to the real experience I encountered, instead I referred to my own fictional narratives.” Before I asked him my scripted questions, he led the interview towards the two topics I was to talk about, narrative layering and meta-fiction.

Based on everything2.com, the characteristics of works that use both these literary devices include the reference to itself as well as the creation and/or discussion of fictional works by fictitious characters. Tim OʼBrienʼs works can be broken down when aiming to identify the application of meta-fiction and narrative layering.

Within Speaking of Courage, a character ʻTimʼ is present. Written in third person narrative, and having the same name as the author, I personally thought that Tim, the character, was Tim, the writer. Though the literal Tim OʼBrien addressed that “I am Tim, Tim OʼBrien, but Tim is not me.” I gave him a blank stare, attempting to understand his point then I realized that he used narrative layering within his work. The first layer can be considered as when Tim, the character, heard about Bowkerʼs story, then the story lead to the second layer at which Tim, the writer, made it seem like Bowker is retelling the story. In fact, the whole story itself, is narrated by a fictional narrator, this discovery is and can be seen as the third and final layer.

This discovery proves both the application of meta-fiction and narrative layering as it writes fiction based on fiction and is narrated by layers of fiction characters. Even within the beginning pages of the novel, though insignificantly mentioned, it is stated that it is a “work of fiction” and “lovingly dedicated to the men of Alpha Company, … Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, … and Kiowa”. “Did you realize? I schemed the writing of that page to enhance the fact that this entire novel is a fictional piece. Tim, the character – the fictional character, wrote this page, not Tim as in myself,” he smirked while explaining.

“Within Notes, I began writing by referring to Speaking of Courage, that in itself can show that I referred to my own fictional work – that is meta-fiction,” he clarified. Whilst in On A Rainy River, a statement brings upon the reference of itself – as stated above, this technique can be used to identify the usage of meta-fiction. The narrator of the story explains, “Now, perhaps, you can understand why Iʼve never told this story before.” (Pg. 54) – the narrator addresses the story within the story.

The story How to Tell A True War Story is the epitome of a meta-fiction-filled work. It starts off stating, “This is true,” (Pg. 64), then leads to the confusion of readers that if a war story “seems moral, do not believe it,” as it is a “very old and terrible lie.” (Pg. 65) Every definition of a ʻtrueʼ war story within is alternatingly opposed through the differing versions of the fictional characterʼs narratives. Patricia Waugh declares that meta-fiction-filled work “selfconsciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality,” at which is all present within this story.

Evidently visible within his work, Tim OʼBrien demonstrates the usage of both literary decices. Acknowledging the help of these literary devices, he states that narrative layering makes “the source material stronger and the core story

more engaging.”1 While the other literary device, meta-fiction is defined as the act of writing about writing, acts as a tool to remind readers that even though the narratives he writes are fiction, “sometimes stories can be more real than reality itself.” Using it to the extent of “foregrounding the fiction of fiction and reality,”2 – he applies meta-fiction as how John Barth defines it. He writes based on the imitation of novels/narrative fictions rather than writing fictions based on reality, undeniably present, his works show self-conscious examinations of fiction by referring to itself. Written with excellence, Tim OʼBrienʼs works uses both literary devices – he explores thoroughly, the purpose of writing.

Goldhammer, G. (2013). Layered Narrative Storytelling: A Journalistic Standard for Creating

Content. . Last accessed 23rd May 2014.

Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. NY: Routledge, 1984.

“The Things They Carried”

In “The Things They Carried,” Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is torn between being a good leader to his soldiers and his love for Martha, thus making him a truly dynamic character. A dynamic character is someone who undergoes an important, internal change because of action in the plot. For example, personality or attitude would be two that play a role in against Lieutenant. Jimmy cross shows us in the story just what a dynamic character is, and I am going to explain how he acts before the climax and how he evolves after.

Dreamy Lieutenant Cross must lead his men through rice paddies in Vietnam. No matter how hard he tries to be a good leader, he cannot stop fantasizing about Martha. He would rather be back in New Jersey with her, a girl who does not love him back.

The hardest thing that Lieutenant carries is his emotional attachment to her. It tortures him that she doesn’t feel the same way, but she never will.

His love for her is to the point it’s an obsession. As it mentions in the story all the soldiers carry all their necessities they want to make them feel warm and at home, whereas, Jimmy Cross carries in his wallet two photographs of Martha. It reads, “The first was a Kodacolor snapshot signed love, though he knew better,” and “The photograph had been clipped from the 1968 Mount Sebastian Yearbook.” We can see this whole dream the he carries around with him distracts him from his job.

Throughout the whole story Lieutenant Cross struggles to stop thinking about Martha and start being a better leader to his soldiers. Although he proves to us he is so wrapped up in his fantasies; it takes the death of Ted Lavender for Lieutenant Jimmy Cross to open his eyes and snap out of it. Cross believes he could have prevented it if he wouldn’t have been thinking about Martha. There he decides he has to learn to think only of his job in the field. He will never forgive himself for mistaking the responsibility of his men. Jimmy Cross was being selfish and his now paying for it by having to go on throughout the day missing a soldier. Martha had a way of leading on Jimmy Cross and to allow his love for her to grow.

The letters she sent in the mail, the pebble she sent him, and to the words separate but together quality can make Jimmy Cross very distracted. A lot of times its easy to just get your hopes up and to think about that daily non-stop. Jimmy had a love for Martha that she didn’t ever give back. Often leading him to get his hopes up. I suppose it would be hard to be so far away and just to have that someone you know will be there when you get home and to love you like you love them. That’s all Lieutenant Jimmy Cross wanted. However to overcome all this he burns all of Martha’s letters, throws the pebbles away, and concentrates on being a leader he was supposed to be in the beginning to his soldiers.

The Dilemma of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

In Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is a 24 year old young man in love with a girl named Martha, who is thrust into the jungles of Vietnam. Carrying “the responsibility for the lives of his men” but distracted by his fantasies of Martha, tragedy strikes his platoon and Ted Lavender is shot and killed. (p. 97). Lieutenant Cross grieves for Lavender, for Martha, for himself, as he curtails his daydreams “determined to perform his duties firmly and without negligence.

” (p. 106).


The war was gruesome, relentless, monotonous, and purposeless. The men of Lieutenant Cross’s platoon carried everything they needed (and some things they did not) on their persons as they “humped” it through the jungles of Vietnam (p. 98). They carried food, clothing, bedding, weapons, photos, diseases, parasites, wounded and dead comrades, memories, reputations, dreams, and “the common secret of cowardice barely restrained” (p. 105). They carried things for many different reasons: choice, necessity, entertainment, superstition, or as a function of rank or field specialty.

PARAGRAPH Among his things, Lieutenant Cross carried memories, letters, pictures, and a good luck charm from a young college student named Martha. Although they dated before the war, they only kissed briefly, and her letters carried news of a “separate-but-together quality” they shared (p. 99). He knew that just because she signed her letters love Martha did not mean she was in love with him, but he was hopeful. He often lost himself in fantasies of her, wondering about her virginity and what “her truest feelings were” (p. 99).

He moved slowly and distractedly finding it difficult to keep his mind on war and his men’s security. His mind continuously wandered to thoughts of “Martha’s smooth young face, thinking he loved her more than anything, more than his men, and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her” (p. 99). He was young and in love and could not help it but he was ashamed and hated himself too. PARAGRAPH Among his things, Ted Lavender who was scared, carried tranquilizers, premium dope and extra ammunition, necessities for him.

On the day he was shot and killed, he had just popped a tranquilizer and gone off to pee. Caught by a bullet to the head, in the act of zipping up, he went down instantly, under an exceptional burden of “unweighed fear” and extra bullets (p. 99). PARAGRAPH “The morning after Ted Lavender died, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross crouched at the bottom of his foxhole and burned Martha’s letters. Then he burned the two photographs” (p. 105). He realized that daydreams of unrequited love had no place in this nightmare world he called reality.

He knew that this sentimental gesture could not burn the blame he felt for Lavender’s death, but perhaps it would keep the rest of the platoon alive. PARAGRAPH Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’s dilemma arose from the natural impulses of a young man in love coupled with the incessant responsibilities of a combat officer. Following Lavender’s death he realized “that his obligation was not to be loved but to lead” (p. 107). A heavy burden to carry indeed. He vowed to himself diligence to his officer’s duties, fully intending to run a tight ship regardless of the complaints of his men.

Literary Techniques in “The Things They Carried”

A literary technique is a device employed in literature to add depth to a writer’s work. These techniques can be obvious, such as the technique of rhyme in a poem, or subtle, such as juxtaposition, which can go unnoticed by the reader. In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien uses many such techniques to provide more depth to his book. Four literary techniques used by Tim O’Brien are symbolism, pathetic fallacy, irony, and juxtaposition. One literary technique prominent in The Things They Carried, particularly in the story by the same name, is symbolism.

Throughout this story, O’Brien mentions all the things that the soldiers carry with them, both physical and emotional. However, the physical items that the men carried is more than just equipment- they are symbols that represent various facets of each soldier’s personality. For example, “Rat Kiley carried… morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape… and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M’s for especially bad wounds” (O’Brien 5).

The fact that Kiley carried medical necessities shows that he is a good paramedic devoted to doing his job well, but the M&M’s represent something different- Kiley’s optimistic and kind outlook on the war and life in general. Conversely, the tranquilizers carried by Ted Lavender represent his terror of the fighting in the war and his inability to face reality, rather choosing to escape from it by taking drugs. This is an effective technique because, by using these symbols, O’Brien can let the reader figure out for him/herself deeper aspects of certain characters’ personalities without actually stating them outright.

Another literary device Tim O’Brien employs is pathetic fallacy, or nature mirroring humans’ emotions. In the story Speaking of Courage, Norman Bowker attempts to save Kiowa’s life but fails. He becomes depressed and remorseful about what he should have been able to accomplish. For a long time afterward, Bowker struggles with the fact that he was “braver than he ever thought possible, but… not so brave as he wanted to be” (153); he is overcome with sadness and guilt. This is reflected in the weather at the time of Kiowa’s death.

The soldiers were camping out in a field along the Song Tra Bong, and “the rain kept getting worse. And by midnight the field turned into soup” (145). The rain emulates the emotions of the weary and despondent soldiers. Pathetic fallacy is a very useful technique because it helps to provide the tone for the story. If the story was a sad one but the weather was bright and sunny, the tone of the story would be wrong, and vice versa. In Speaking of Courage, the fact that it was raining during the main event of the story helps the reader gain and understanding of just how bleak and dismal the events that occurred were.

Irony, or a discrepancy between expectation and reality, is another literary technique used by Tim O’Brien in The Things They Carried. Many of the titles of the stories contain irony themselves. For example, Speaking of Courage is more centred on the themes of failure and the inability to be courageous than it is about courage. The story Love is not, as it would seem, about mutual love, but rather unrequited love. Field Trip, an expression with a usually very positive connotation, is a story about a visit to a battleground where many lives had been lost.

The Story How to Tell a True War Story also contains much irony within it. The main point of this story is that a true war story cannot be told because the simple act of telling it makes it untrue. The title of this story is ironic- O’Brien makes the reader think that he wants to instruct them how to tell a true war story, but the reader soon finds out O’Brien’s real intention- that telling a true war story is impossible. Another ironic idea within this story is the idea that war can be beautiful.

“You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not. Like a forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle… has… a powerful, implacable beauty” (81). This catches the reader off-guard because of how greatly it contrasts with the view of war we have been previously given. He continues to say that, “a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly” (81). This is very ironic because although the actual event may be beautiful, if a true story is told about it, the story is ugly.

This adds to O’Brien’s point that telling a story, even a true one, can only take away from the truth of the event. Using irony, O’Brien can present his message in a creative an interesting way, and this helps the readers understand his point better. Another technique used by Tim O’Brien is juxtaposition. The story The Lives of the Dead seems to be a bit of a non-sequitur to the rest of the book, however, O’Brien has put it where it is for a reason. The point of The Things They Carried is not simply to tell stories about the Vietnam War- the lesson goes deeper than that.

It comes to teach that war is about more than just fighting- it is about the connection between life and death. It is about learning to detach oneself from death. It is about the sacredness and fragility of life. It is about so many things that many people never have to experience. But the Vietnam War is not O’Brien’s first time coming into contact with these kinds of issues. As a child, he had a beloved friend named Linda who died of cancer. Linda’s death was a major part of his growing up process.

As a child, he already had to learn to distance himself from her death, saying, “It didn’t seem real… the girl lying in the white casket wasn’t Linda” (241). And although he did not realize it at the time, her death helped him to deal with all the deaths he encountered in the war. For example, when Curt Lemon dies, O’Brien refuses to see his body as a friend who died. Instead he says, “his body was not really a body, but rather one small bit of waste in the midst of a much wider wastage” (238).

The lessons that O’Brien learned as a child are very relevant and linked to his experiences in the Vietnam War, which is why he chooses to include The Lives of the Dead. But this is not the only message that O’Brien wants us to take out of the inclusion The Lives of the Dead in The Things They Carried- he wants to convey that even though something that happens in one’s life may seem horrible and meaningless, it may become of use to him or her later in life, and it may help him or her to get through an otherwise unmanageable time.

O’Brien wants his reader to know that everything in life comes for a purpose. Throughout The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien makes use of many different literary techniques. In the story The Things They Carried, O’Brien uses symbolism. In Speaking of Courage, the literary technique is pathetic fallacy. Irony is used in How to Tell a True War Story, among others, and juxtaposition is used in the story The Lives of the Dead. It can be seen that literary techniques have a simple but powerful effect in The Things They Carried.

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, and The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, are two novels set a century apart, yet they both connect to one another. Tim O’Brien’s novel illustrates his experience in the Vietnam War, while Stephen Crane’s novel demonstrates his experience in the Civil War. These two novels focus on the image one gives himself while going into the war and image one gets going out of it, whether one makes it out alive or gets consumed by it.

In these two novels the concept of being a “coward” made a big factor in the way they say themselves. Both Henry Fleming from, The Red Badge of Courage, and Tim O’Brien from The Things They Carried, had a different reason for considering themselves a coward. Tim O’Brien was drafted to the Vietnam War, a war which he didn’t believe in, nor wanted to participate. He left everything behind and was on the verge of fleeing to Canada.

He didn’t want to lose everything behind, his family, his friends, and his home.

Tim wanted to be brave, leave everything and flee so he wouldn’t participate in the war, but that wasn’t the case. “I would go to the war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to.” It wasn’t fear or morality that Tim had, he just couldn’t leave everything behind and flee. “I was a coward. I went to war.” In Henry’s case, he enlisted to the war. He wanted to be hero in this war, like he had always imagined. Soon he realized that all he was, was a pawn on a chess board. He was a mere soldier. Once things got tough in the second battle he was in, he fled. Henry couldn’t get the image of himself as a coward. All he was was a coward, for fleeing.

Henry had all this guilt inside him, for fleeing and lying about a fake battle scare he had got. When he finally regrouped with his squad they encountered a small battle. Trying to push back the enemy, soldier after soldier kept firing their rifle including Henry. Henry had got consumed into the battle, reloading then firing. He repeated this even when the enemy had already fled. “He lost sense of everything but his hate, his desire to smash into pulp the glittering smile of victory which he could feel upon the faces of his enemies.” Henry was consumed in the moment of battle, shooting eagerly at his enemies. After this small battle, the lieutenant called him a “war devil.”

While in the other novel, Mary Anne, a 17 year old girl, was brought into the war zone. She stayed with her boyfriend Mark Fossie. She would roam around the woods, fascinated by the nature. Over time she wasn’t even recognizable, with her necklace of human tongue. She was no longer that innocent girl that had first came to the war. “She had crossed to the other side. She was part of the land.” There are different ways for which one could get consumed by war. For Mary Anne, she became one with the land.

There are things and feeling that go on though war, that one would only go through or feel in war. Both Henry and Tim witnessed deaths throughout the novel, whether they knew the person or not. War really changes a person, mentally and physically. One would go into war with a clear image of himself and come out of the war with another.

These two novels demonstrate how war changes the image you give yourself, whether you get consumed by war or make it out alive. Both Henry Fleming and Tim O’Brien had to go through obstacles, changing the way they see themselves and the way others see them. These novels may be set a century apart, but they connect in so many ways.

“Story Truth” and “Happening Truth” in the Things They Carried

Throughout The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien it is difficult to separate what is fictitious, and what is true. During the entire work there are two different “truths”, which are “story truth” and “happening truth”. “Happening truth” is the actual events that happen, and is the foundation or time line on which the story is built on. “Story truth” is the molding or re-shaping of the “happening truth” that allows the story to be believable and enjoyable.

It is not easy to distinguish “happening truth” from “story truth”, and at times during the novel O’brien reveals which is which.

On the other hand, when the reader is blind to the truth, it is still possible to analyze his work and come to a diffident conclusion as to what is “happening truth” and what is “story truth”. “Happening truth” is the actual, factual occurrence of an event, but the real “happening truth” would mean nothing if it were not made believable, enjoyable and readable by applying “story truth”.

A few chapters of the book stand out more than others when it comes to this concept of truth that Tim O’Brien tinkers with. These chapters include “Love”, “How to Tell a True War Story”, “The Man I Killed”, and “Good Form”. “Love” is the second chapter of The Things They Carried, but it is the first chapter that the author Tim O’Brien begins to, in a way, harass the reader with this concept of “happening truth” and “story truth”. Tim O’brien and Jimmy Cross sit, talk, drink, smoke and reminisce about their times in the Vietnam War.

At times Tim O’brien chimes in and begins to narrate, for example, “At one point, I remember, we paused over a snapshot of Ted Lavender, and after a while Jimmy rubbed his eyes and said he’d never forgiven himself for Lavender’s death” (27). At other times there is dialogue between O’brien and Cross such as, “’Remember this? ’ he said. I nodded and told him I was surprised. I thought he’d burned it…’Well, I did—I burned it. After Lavender died, I couldn’t…This is a new one. Martha gave it to me herself’” (28). This makes the reader believe that the Tim.

O’brien who wrote the book is indeed the Tim O’brien that is in the book, therefore this must be a true story from his experiences in the Vietnam War. All the more, at the end of the chapter he even asks Jimmy Cross permission to write the book the reader is looking at right then and there, “At the end, though, as we were walking out to his car, I told him that I’d like to write a story about some of this…’Why not? ’ he said…’Make me out to be a good guy, okay? Brave and handsome, all that stuff. Best platoon leader ever’” (29-30).

Like stated before, it is nearly impossible for a blind reader to distinguish the “happening truth” from “story truth”, but it is possible that Tim O’brien and Jimmy Cross did in fact meet and talk for a day, but the honest facts may be twisted by “story truth”. For example, O’Brien may not remember his and Jimmy Cross’ conversation throughout that entire day in great detail; therefore he may have had to formulate and make up certain parts in order to fill in holes and perhaps make the interaction more interesting. The first three words of the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story” are, “This is true” (67).

Although Tim O’Brien begins this chapter with such a bold and clear statement, throughout the chapter he has the reader thinking and confused when he contradicts himself by stating things such as, “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility…In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story. Sometimes it’s just beyond telling” (71), and “In war you lose your sense of definite, hence your sense of truth itself, therefore it’s safe to say that in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true” (82).

These remarks by Tim O’Brien are all about what “happening truth” and “story truth” are all about. In war it is impossible to know and remember the definite “happening truth”, therefore while telling a war story that may be totally true; one must fill in blanks with “story truth” for those listening not to get lost. In the chapter “The Man I Killed”, Tim O’Brien takes the whole playing with truth idea to a new level, and you are not able to realize until later in the novel. In this chapter O’Brien describes, quite literally as the chapter is titled, the man he killed. He goes through everything in such

detail and paints such a clear picture in the reader’s head to imagine. He describes in detail how the body was, “His jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star-shaped hole, his eyebrows were thin and arched like a woman’s, his nose was undamaged, there was a slight tear at the lobe of one ear, his clean black hair was swept upward into a cowlick at the rear of the skull, his fingernails were clean…” (124). He recalls dialogue between his fellow platoon members about the man he killed, “’Oh, man, you fuckin’ trashed the fucker,’ Azar said.

‘You scrambled his sorry self, look at that, you did, you laid him out like Shredded fuckin’ Wheat. ’ ‘Go away,’ Kiowa said. ‘I’m just saying the truth. Like oatmeal. ’ ‘Go,’ Kiowa said. ‘Okay, then, I take it back,’ Azar said…” (125). O’Brien even writes about his thoughts of the young Vietnamese man’s life before he killed him, such as if he was married, if he had children, if he was educated, what his job was before the military, etc. Six chapters later in “Good Form” Tim O’Brien comes out with the total honest truth, the real truth, for the first time in the book.

He says, “It’s time to be blunt…a long time ago I walked through Quang Ngai Province as a foot soldier. Almot everything else is invented” (179). Tim O’Brien lied about the entire chapter “The Man I Killed” other than the small fact that he was there. He did not throw any grenade, none of the dialogue between his fellow platoon mates happened, he experienced none of the feelings he described, and he certainly did not kill any man. Why would Tim O’Brien do this? Why would he write entire chapter based on lie? Why would he mislead the reader like this? Tim O’Brien explains, “I want you to feel what I felt.

I want you to know why story-truth is truer than happening-truth. Here is the happening-truth. 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…Here is the story-truth. He was slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe. His jaw was in his throat. His one eye was shut; the other eye was a star shaped hole. I killed him” (180). Tim O’Brien wants to get his point across in this novel. Like he stated before, he wants the reader to feel what he felt, he wants the reader to feel it in their stomach.

In order to get his point across, and in order to tell a “real war story” he must apply “story truth”. Overall, it is quite clear that “story truth” is in fact truer than “happening truth”. The reality is that without “story truth” applied to “happening truth”, a story teller’s story would not get through to his or her listeners, a story teller would not get his or her point across to those listening, a story would have large gaps in the story line, and lastly, the story would not be entertaining, therefore no one would truly listen.

Tim O’Brien puts these scenarios on display in this novel The Things They Carried and even he expresses his love for “story truth” in his own story telling, and that it is indeed truer than “happening truth”. Works Cited O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: a Work of Fiction. New York: Broadway, 1998. Print.

Full Metal Jacket vs the Things They Carried

I’m going to show you a short clip from the movie “Full Metal Jacket” directed by Stanley Kubart, the guy Mr. MacBride’s brother mentioned yesterday in the LMC. In this scene, this group of American soldiers finally found and wounded the sniper that had already killed 3 of their men. One of which is Joker’s, the protagonist’s, best friend, Cowboy.

In the scene we just watched, the sniper was wounded, and Baldwin wanted to leave the sniper to rot, but Joker kills her instead.

This leads the audience wonder: “Did Joker kill her because he wanted to end her misery, or did he kill her out of frustration and as way of revenge for his friend, Cowboy?” The significance isn’t in the answer, but in the question itself. The fact that this movie makes you doubt Joker’s motives shows that this is a true war story. There is no moral in Full Metal Jacket.

There are no good guys and bad guys, and there isn’t a clear line drawn between justice and evil.

You don’t feel hatred towards the Viet Cong sniper, and you don’t have undying support the American soldiers. It’s different from all the other cliché, patriotic war movies. Like Tim O’Brien writes “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie.”

No one would argue what Joker did was a “model of proper human behavior”, because no one knows if he killed the sniper out of sympathy or to fulfill his lust for vengeance. Baldwin wanted to do what “men have always done”; he wanted to let the sniper feel the amount of pain and sorrow he feels; he wanted her to die a slow, painful death, he wanted revenge. The ending doesn’t uplift you, and the situation the soldiers were in allowed no rectitude. All these factors integrated create a masterpiece to what O’Brien would proudly consider as a true war story.

The Things They Carried is ironic in a way that it tells you how to tell a true war story, but the novel itself is a work of fiction. However, this doesn’t mean the stories themselves aren’t realistic; they are, as O’Brien would say, the story truth. Sometimes the story truth is truer than the happening truth, because it makes things feel present. Reading this book makes the reader feel confused, and even cheated, because by creating a “fictional” protagonist called Tim O’Brien, a soldier who fought in the Vietnam War, the author, Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam war veteran, is luring us into believing that these stories are true. By treating this work as a work of non-fiction, the reader sympathizes for the soldiers, and forms an emotional connection with the characters.

In the chapter, “Good Form”, O’Brien tells you everything is made up. We, as readers, experience a sudden psychological change, and this change mirrors the psychological change the soldiers of the war experienced. We view the stories differently now, and the soldiers were forced to view life and death differently. Notice in “The Lives of the Dead”, everyone in O’Brien’s platoon shook hands with the dead Vietnam soldier, gave him a can of orange slices, and talked to him. In order to cope with the brutality of the war, these guys had to reanimate the dead. They had to see and treat him as if he was still alive to relieve their guilty conscience of murder.

After we realize these tales are just tales, we readers are forced view these stories through a different lens, and those boys who went to war had to see the war through the lens of soldier. Much like how Lieutenant Jimmy Cross was trained not to see his men as individuals, but rather as interchangeable units of command. O’Brien’s intentional setup allows the reader to experience to a certain degree how the soldiers felt entering the war. If he just told us real stories, the happening truths, we would still empathize with them, but we wouldn’t truly understand. This is why the story truth is sometimes truer, and more expressive than the happening truth.

The Things They Carried is truly a great form of art, not only because of its stylistic language, but because it abandons tradition and blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction, creating brand new possibilities in the world of literature.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in The Things They Carried

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is a psychological disorder that involves extreme cases of anxiety. PTSD comes as a result of an individual’s experience of a highly distressing event wherein there was a threat of grievous physical harm and there was experience of intense psychological stress.

An individual is diagnosed with PTSD based on the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV & DSM-IV-TR definitions. Diagnosis of PTSD  is given if an individual shows the following symptoms for a period of more than one month.

First, the individual’s recurrent experience of the event after the actual occurrence perhaps through dreams, recollections, and experience of anxiety upon display of different items linked with the traumatic event. Second, the individual avoids or does not feel anything when presented with things and people that are emotionally linked to the traumatic event.

This may also include feelings of being estranged from other people in the individuals’ surroundings. Third, the individual experiences a heightened sense of arousal thus probably causing sleeplessness, sudden bursts of emotion, hyper vigilance, and the like.

And lastly, the individual find himself or herself unable to properly function in certain aspects of his or her life perhaps at work, at home, or in other social environments. The severity of the PTSD, whether acute or chronic, is assessed based on how long the given symptoms persist in the individual.

An event which has come to be heavily associated with PTSD is war. A great number of literary pieces have been dedicated to this event and one such work is Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. PTSD in relation to war is clearly seen in the different collections of stories compiled and written by Tim O’Brien in his book.

One particular story found in the book that shows PTSD in the case of a war veteran is “Speaking of Courage”. The main character in this particular story is Norman Bowker. Symptoms of PTSD are clearly seen in his actions. Bowker is unmotivated, experiences confusion and mental chaos, feels estranged and isolated from others in his town and is also unable to obtain work.

Social inhibitions that plague this character, which are clear signs of PTSD, are exemplified in his inability to properly order in a drive-thru restaurant. Instead of speaking through the intercom, he honks his horn at the waitress until he gets his order. He then proceeds to eat his food without moving his car and leaves only upon finishing his meal. (Examples of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in The Things They Carried; Tim O’Brien’s – The Things They Carried Eating Them Away)

Bowker relives and is unable to move past the events of the war. He lives in a constant state of guilt because of his inability to prevent the death of his friend in Vietnam. The conclusion of Bowker’s story is suicide, an event that is not uncommon in cases of posttraumatic stress disorder.

In the story “Stockings”, the main character named Henry Dobbins wrapped his girlfriend’s panty hose around his neck during battle supposedly as a good luck charm. He would also sleep with it against his face. Even after the war, when Dobbins and his girlfriend were no longer a couple, he still continued to sleep with and tie the stockings around his neck. Dobbins explains this act by the referral of the continued presence of the stocking’s magic. This shows an aspect of PTSD stated by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM-IV & DSM-IV-TR wherein an individual experiencing the disorder experiences reactivity to objects linked with the traumatic event.

The Things They Carried was clearly written by O’Brien with a theme in mind. That theme involves the experiences of war veterans after surviving the war. That is to say that the book depicts the effects of the war on the soldiers and the various individuals who were involved. Tim O’Brien particularly focuses on the psychological effects that the events of the war has left. The lives of the soldiers characterized in the stories are clear examples of emotional baggage carried by survivors of the war.

       Jim Neilson states in his article The Truth in Things: Personal Trauma as Historical Amnesia in The Things They Carried, the recurring them of the horrors of war. The explicit descriptions of the incidents that the characters experienced in the story were the author’s way of communicating to the audience how such events could lead to anxiety, distress, disorder, and even insanity. Andrew Morgan also acknowledges that in reality, war veterans who experienced the Vietnam War still live with the guilt and fears induced by that experience.

They carry these memories with them and are unable to lead the same lives they used to have before joining the war. These are what caused them to eventual experience of PTSD, to eventual insanity, and for some even to suicide.  Posttraumatic stress disorder is indeed a problem that plagues many war veterans today. It is encompassing in its scope and affects all aspects of the lives of those experiencing it. Tim O’Brien paints for us, in The Things They Carried, a clear picture of what PTSD is, what instances can lead to it, and the ugliness that it brings in its wake.

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. “DSM-IV & DSM-IV-TR: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” 2000 BehaveNet.com 11 December 2007 <http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders/ptsd.htm>

“Examples of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in The Things They Carried.” 123HelpMe.com 11 December 2007 <http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=5162>.

Morgan, Andrew. “The Things They Carried” Angelfire29 April 2003 11 December 2007 < http://www.angelfire.com/ga4/project1/research%20papers.htm#Christopher%20Luke%20Corno>.

Neilson, Jim. “The Truth in Things: Personal Trauma As Historical Amnesia in The Things They Carried” Fortune City 11 December 2007 <http://victorian.fortunecity.com/holbein/439/essays/neilsonthings.html>.

“Tim O’Brien’s-The Things They Carried Eating Them Away”  Studyworld 11 December 2007 <http://www.studyworld.com/basementpapers/sec_papers/Things_They_Carried.html>