Analysis of Postmodernism and Metafiction in the Things They Carried
In “The Things They Carried”, Tim O’Brien uses various techniques of postmodernism and metafiction to achieve distinct rhetoric goals. By using these techniques, it helps the readers understand what O’Brien is thinking about while he is writing. This is why this book is what it is. By O’Brien completing his distinct rhetoric goals, it further enhances the complexity and thought provoking ness of “The Things They Carried’. O’Brien uses postmodernism all throughout the novel to give readers a more insightful view. Postmodernism is a narrative technique used by authors to mainly explain reality.
Postmodernism also consists of paradoxes and fragmentation. Many times in the novel, O’Brien tells us something whether it be a short sentence or a long story then says how none of it was true. This goes along with one of the themes in the novel. This theme is reality and is based off of perspective. Many times O’Brien will talk about how a story can have added things that are not true, but as long as it is getting the point across that the speaker wants, then it is okay. A clear example of this is on page 152 where O’Brien states, “You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur, but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain”. This goes to show how he uses this technique to further enhance the reader’s understanding of the point and the theme that O’Brien wants to get across.
O’Brien uses a paradox in chapter 4, “The Rainy River”. The paradox that is being used is between bravery and cowardice. O’Brien, tells a story about when he was young and how he was an anti war supporter. Later on he was drafted. His immediate reaction was that he was in disbelief. He states that he did not know what to do and that even the idea of fleeing into Canada ran through his mind. He says he does not want to run away, but he also does not want to go to Vietnam. O’Brien states on page 244 that he believes him going to the war still makes him a coward. ‘I survived, but it’s not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to war’. There is also a paradox here. The paradox is that most people consider going to war as an act of bravery and courage, but he believes that going to war actually made him a coward. O’Brien uses fragmentation throughout the novel to connect the readers to his experiences and emotions. Fragmentation is especially used in the chapter “Spin”.
For example, O’Brien shares the story of soldier Curt Lemon’s death in fragments to show all the true emotions that he felt at the time. This helps the readers understand the respect and love that two fellow soldiers had for each other. This is a way that O’Brien manipulates the readers’ emotions. O’Brien’s use of postmodernism makes the readers truly develop and understand emotions. O’Brien’s use of metafiction is all throughout the novel. O’Brien reminds the readers that the stories he tells are fiction, but some parts of it are true. Metafiction is also when the author speaks directly to their readers by reminding them that the novel is a work of fiction. He is constantly using metafiction, whether it is in a long story or even a short sentence. Tim O’Brien uses metafiction to talk to the audience in first person, switching perspectives. He does this in order to show the true feelings of the soldiers. O’Brien states, “You can tell a true war story if it embrasses you. If you don’t care for obscenity, you don’t care for the truth; if you don’t care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty.” This is a clear example of O’Brien trying to directly speak to the readers about when soldiers come home and showing how they are permanently changed from the experiences of war.
Another example of this is in the chapter “Good Form”. O’Brien states, “Right here, now, as I invent myself, I’m thinking of all I want to tell you about why this book is written as it is.” This quote shows how he is directly speaking to the readers about his thought process on why the book is written and composed the way it is. O’Brien uses metafiction to make the readers realize that there is truth within the work of fiction. O’Brien’s use of metafiction and postmodernism helps the readers understand the distinct rhetoric goals of there being truth within fiction and how the war affected the lives of the soldiers forever. Without his use of these techniques, the novel would not be the same.
O’Brien’s Writing Style in the Things They Carried
Due to the unconventional way that Tim O’Brien writes his novel, The Things They Carried, many cannot decide which genre it belongs to. The debate lies in the argument of whether the collection of short stories that are part of the book are of fiction, or true to word memoir. While reading the book, the reader has no way of knowing what is real and what is made up as they are exposed to a way of writing that is unfamiliar to that of typical novels; a combination of memoir and fiction of which purpose is to send a more personal and intimate meaning of the events, according to O’Brien’s distinction of modifying details of real events.
Ultimately, to condense the differences between a memoir and a fictional text can be summed up with the idea of reality versus creative liberties. The complexities that lie between the line that separates the two genres, also seemingly contrasting, land in a grey area once further investigated. Holistically, there isn’t a concrete definition to a completely fictional nor a completely realistic text, as both can utilise elements of creative exaggeration along with reality in order to achieve the goal of better writing. The purpose of O’Brien’s deviation from the conventions of traditional fiction is to, ironically, create a more realistic visual and emotional image of what it was like to be in the war and to show the true essence of a real war story. The goals of memoirs and fiction are different. A memoir’s goal is to help the author explore his memories and arrive at the truth of how the experience changed and affected his life.
As a result, the tone is often selfish, with more emphasis placed on the author’s reflections than developing a cohesive plot.While fiction still reveals truths through themes and morals, its primary purpose is to entertain. O’Brien allows for the mix of these 2 styles of writing by narrating the story through the eyes of a self titled soldier, Tim O’Brien. This distinction creates a sense of personal pathos within the story towards the audience, appealing in multiple stages throughout the book as O’Brien switches between diary like entries and narrating war time situations through the eyes of other characters. An example of situations like these is in the chapter “Speaking of Courage” where O’Brien narrates a day in Norman Bowker’s life after the war.
The chapter is fundamentally a look through Norman’s head, where he is thinking about what he would’ve said while speaking with anyone, particularly his father, that asked him about the war. Scenes written with this level of detail are evidently fiction as the author cannot have known all the intricacies about Norman and the way he thought about the war the shame he holds because of the traumatic events that occurred.
Yet in the chapter that follows, titled “Notes”, the author writes it from his own personal perspective and sheds light on some things that contradict what was said in the differing perspective of Norman. This observation can be seen in the last paragraph of the chapter where he reveals how he edited the story Norman told him and that the guilt Norman felt about not saving Kiowa was actually his own. “I want to make it clear that Norman Bowker was in no way responsible for what happened to Kiowa. Norman did not experience a failure of nerve that night. He did not freeze up or lose the Silver Star for valor. That part of the story is my own”. These shifts in perspective create a sense of confusion for the reader as they don’t know whether what is being spoken is actually what happened or whether it’s just a product of O’Brien’s imagination with the purpose of communicating a speculated image of what happened. The author deviates from typical representations of similar novels by personally stepping into the story and communicating directly with the reader which proves that this part of the story comes from his memories and not a made-up action.
In the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story”, O’Brien speaks as an author about what it is truly like to be in a war and what it is like to attempt to communicate it to other people that have never experienced it. He says “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models for 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.” The audience is enlightened and is able to infer that Tim’s narrative shows that a writer has the power to shape his experiences and opinions in the same way that the war distorts the soldier’s perceptions of right and wrong and what actually occurred.
Tim O’Brien communicated his intended message by constructing fictional events to convey a deeper meaning, Choosing to show the audience the “story-truth” instead of the “happening-truth”, he introduced fictional characters such as Kiowa, Mitchell Sanders and Rat Kiley who carried true messages through unreal events. This surrealism provided us with several truths, such as the juxtaposition shown through the ‘real, not real events’ revealing insight of the struggles of American soldiers and the hardships they had to endure through their eyes. This initiates extreme authenticity to the book and made it very personal whilst still allowing the audience to decide for themselves what should be seen as real and what isn’t. He gave the audience multiple stories from varied perspectives of fictional and nonfictional characters who struggled through surreal and true events, many of which he created in order to provide a more insightful image through both his memory and his imagination.
Analysis of the Female Characters’ Roles in the Things They Carried
“The Things They Carried” is a collection of linked short stories by American novelist Tim O’Brien, about a platoon of American soldiers fighting on the ground in the Vietnam War. As the stories describe O’Brien’s memories, the female character’s roles in the novel depict important messages. Martha shows love and denial; Mary Anne Bell plays the loss of innocence, a sense of coming of age; and lastly Linda, memory and death. All women play a part in piecing the novel together, a team. The female characters represent and reflect the soldiers’ emotions and values while in the war. One of the most significant female characters is Martha, who appears in the first short story in The Things They Carried, she symbolizes love and denial. As the novel starts, it goes on to describe the story of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and the way he carries his letters. The letters were from Martha, a friend and love interest back home in college. No, they were never love letters; however Jimmy never failed to pretend or hope that they may have meant more. Often jimmy found himself obsessing over the fact if Martha would ever love him back, “sometimes tasting the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there too.” He keeps hold of everything she sends, photographs, memories, etc. Out on an operation, Lieutenant Jimmy’s friend, Ted Lavender dies.
Through a lapse of lost concentration and self-awareness, Jimmy discovers himself thinking about his distant love. He burns Martha’s letters and pictures, thinking it would set off a source of relief. The gesture does no such thing. As he analyzes the consequences, it is in this story that Martha signifies love, the most valuable human emotion, and danger: since it ends in such tragic consequences. Jimmy has both love and hate for Martha. The reason why Jimmy has such an attraction towards Martha is because she is the string tying him to home and female affection. He longs for a feminine love. The feeling of hate comes from her decision to only be friends. She never wanted more. Jimmy hates how he knows his obsession with her virginity has no purpose; it is a cynical attempt on his part to take his mind off the wars horrors. Processing his feelings as being a soldier is too much for him, so he puts that confusion onto Martha. Martha prevents Jimmy from being a soldier, and because of that Jimmy Cross’ story is a war story. Martha helps give understanding to the text that Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’ story is about nothing but sources of denial.
Mary Anne Bell, is the main character told in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” and describes the loss of innocence. Girlfriend to Mark Fossie, she is narrated to be a nice, long-legged pretty girl; bubbly personality and all. She comes into war and gets tough. Goes into an ambush and comes out never being the same again; Wore a human-tongue necklace. “No cosmetics, no fingernail filing. She stopped wearing jewelry, cut her hair short and wrapped it in a dark green bandanna. Hygiene became a matter of small consequence. Her body seemed foreign somehow — too stiff in places, too firm where the softness used to be. The bubbliness was gone.” Mary Anne was stripped clean of the innocence she held, wiped down to the very core. Mark tries to stop her, but she is a soldier now. She is where she wants to be. “She cradled her gun.” O’Brien writes. She represents the soldiers going into war, and what it can do to you and your soul; “What happened to her, Rat said, was what happened to all of them. You come over clean and you get dirty and then afterward it’s never the same. A question of degree.” The soldiers came into war, young and harmless. Full of dreams. Now they are full of shame, and coldness. Full of war.
The end of Mary Anne Bell’s innocence strikes what happens to men when going into war. She has become a metaphor for the softness lost in men. The way war has changed even the gentlest parts of men, those bits and pieces stranded far away never to be seen again. “Stockings” is a wonderfully articulated chapter in The Things They Carried, a story about Henry Dobbins and his girlfriends pantyhose. Henry “wraped his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck before heading out on ambushes.” He used his girlfriends pantyhose as a good-luck charm. He slept with them, “he liked the memories they inspired”. They were soft, secure. Henry described them as body armor. Even when Henry’s girlfriend dumps him, he still continues to wear her pantyhose; the charm protects something inside of Henry – his own heart and soul. It gives him a feeling of being back home. They give no protection towards his body, and they pantyhose itself no longer amounts to his girlfriends love anymore. Instead, the pantyhose simply protect the part of himself that can love. It is a bundle of cloth that holds intimacy and tenderness for Henry.
Something he can’t express or show out in war. They hold his humanity while he is out living in chaos. It’s as if Henry Dobbins girlfriend is an escapist fantasy for him while he is out in war. One of the last characters to be introduced into The Things They Carried is a 9 year old girl named Linda. As her story is told in the last chapter “The Lives of the Dead” it tells of a time when Tim was a little boy – in love with a girl from school. Unbeknownst to him, she was awfully sick with an incurable disease. As she dies and passes on, it is revealed that he cannot let her go. He imagines her alive, revives her into the novel. “And yet right here, in the spell of memory and imagination, I can still see her as if through the ice, as if im gazing into some other world, a place where there are no brain tumors and no funeral homes, where there are no bodies at all.” Maybe it was the purity of the snow, or possibly the beauty of it that reminded Tim of her. Linda is allowed to live on, possibly she is in you today – Tim’s point is that when people have left your world, it doesn’t mean they cannot live on. Let them dance in the pages you lay your eyes on at night, let them shine a little brighter in the lightbulb you just switched from your lamp. See them in the ‘lucky’ penny you found on the ground at the waterfront in Seattle. Linda’s story allows us to appreciate the memories we have made up of the various artifacts in our life, to carry on. “In Vietnam, too, we had ways of making the dead seem not quite dead… I learned that words make a difference.
It’s easier to cope with the dead if it isn’t human, it doesn’t matter as much.” Tim goes on to explain the various ways he and his mates turned the human corpse into different foods and critters; “they wanted to keep the dead alive with stories.” Linda’s death and memory match with the way the soldiers dealt with death at war. They weren’t able to hold the thought of seeing so much death, it would have broken them. As the soldiers brought the dead back to life, it helped mask the sorrow. With these actions it shows us how we can capture the value of things that were once part of our lives. O’Brien’s memories are tied together using bits and pieces of others as a rope to hold onto. Every aspect, every theme, every event, every character. But it is with these women in the novel that truly mask together the importance in his short stories. Their stories describe the soldiers. The woman’s actions describe the soldier’s weaknesses. They symbolize what the soldiers feel, see, touch, etc.
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien: The Meaning of the Title
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien appears to be a war story about items a platoon of soldiers carried while in Vietnam. The story actually centers around the death of one of the platoon members and the horrible conditions of Vietnam. But the author goes into a deeper, hidden meaning of the things.He subtly expresses the ideas that the soldiers carried with them more than just hear, they carried the items from back home, emotional baggage,and the death of their fellow comrades. And the pain and horror they have to endure is only bearable with these items and the symbolism of hope they have with them. Because with each item they carry the hope of returning home and the hope of making it back home the same person.In the unforgivable wilderness of Vietnam,the young soldiers are forced to carry heavy artillery and supplies.
Still these terrified men go up the extra weight to take letters,pictures, and other things that remind them of the people back at home. These things can be weighed in 40 pounds and ounces and put a strong physical strain of the soldiers.. However, the emotional burdens Tim O’Brien describes in “The Things They Carried” are the most difficult weights they have to bear. O’Brien lists the required supplies carried by all of the soldiers and gives examples of the personal things each soldier chooses “to hump”, which means “to march” or “to walk” (137).
O’Brien gives great detail of the internal, emotional struggles that weigh so heavily on the Lieutenant. Cross physically carries letters, photographs and a “simple pebble, an ounce at most” all given to him by a junior at Mount Sebastian College, named Martha (The Things They Carried 12). All things considered, considering the unending risk they look in Vietnam, the psychological weight each man worries about is a significantly heavier concern.. “Grief, terror, love, longing- these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight” (The Things They Carried 9). Long after the heavy artillery fire and gunshots cracking through the air, some of the pressure of the war is lifted from their shoulders,but the emotional scars will remainO’Brien doesn’t offer as much detail into the emotional baggage carried by Cross” men, but each of the soldiers carried with them something from home. Kiowa carries a copy of the Old Testament, which was given to him by his father (The Things They Carried O’Brien 22). He is also carries the tremendous weight of “his grandmother’s distrust for the white man” and a hunting hatchet (The Things They CarriedO’Brien 22). These emotional and physical items imply that Kiowa, who is Native American, struggles to put the vital trust into his allies, as a result of his upbringing.Dave Jensen, who carries extra socks,high carotene vitamins, foot powder,and ear plugs, seems to have an staggering fear of disease.
Mitchell Sanders carries condoms, which doesn’t make sense or offer any insight however, be that as it may, he is additionally the soilder who cuts the thumb off of a young Vietcong and gives it to another soldier, Norman Bowker (Speaking Of Courage O’Brien 142). The demonstration of removing a young man’s thumb and after that kicking him in the head shows that Sanders is battling with some emotional instability, and a lack of respect for life.These issues might be an immediate aftereffect of the war, or may have been present before in his life.The impacts of these physiological battles is outlined by Cross” failure to control his fantasies about Martha. He gets himself unfit to concentrate on the dangers around him, even as Lee Strunk is looking through the passages in Than Khe, confronting unknown dangers. lieutenant Cross loses himself in a daydream. Through a war there will be a lot of bloodshed, the enemies and even yours. With all the gunfire and shots being fired, people dropping you have no time for grievance. But after a while when you one one by one your friends die, the burden of living with that, the doubt of if you could of saved him or not. All of that starts to pile up and slowly unravel you.
In The Things They Carried many people had to watch as their friends died Curt Lemon being the first. Trying to make some sense of the war or relieving the tension Kurt started playing toss with a smoke grenade with Rat Kiley. Then he stepped on a landmine and blew up. And after seeing so much death you become numb and feel no agony, you slowly start to lose it. Jensen and O’Brien were ordered to climb the tree to retrieve Lemon’s body, and Jensen sang “Lemon Tree” as they threw down the body parts.(182 “How to Tell a True War Story”) The fact that a friend dying out of nowhere doesn’t cause tears, doesn’t cause concern shows how war breaks you. When someone you know dying isn’t a big deal because people die everyday, you start to cope with it in different ways. In this case jenson started singing as he picked up his friend’s body parts.And after that Ted Lavender was the second body to hit the floor. Ted lavender just went out to take a piss and then a crack ripped through the air, his friends watching him drop, lying in a pool of blood. This causes Jimmy cross to start blaming himself for his death. “He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war”. (The Things They Carried.16)
This haunts Jimmy Cross through the book. All of these characters are haunted by guilt, looking for someone or something to blame. They are shattered into pieces scattered across the battlefield. Cracking jokes about the death of comrades, trying to cope, or find meaning in the death of the war. When you hear of war stories you never hear of the death, or the excruciating toll it has on your mind and your body. The guilt, emotional baggage and simple watching as your friends drop one by one can break a man. All of this stuff piled on causes you to lose yourself, act like someone your not. You cling on to anything so that you don’t lose it, or fall down into the black. Just how each soldier brought something with them, carried it wherever they went. They carried the objects from home, but they also carried the weight of the war on their soldiers.
Close Examination of Going after Cacciato
The reality of war unfortunately creates an oppressive system that causes soldiers to struggle with internal conflict and individual thought. In the book Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien, Paul Berlin’s thoughts and emotions are presented fluidly in the observation post as he accepts ideas of leaving the war as a means of embracing courage. Although war is often known for violence and gore, Berlin’s thoughts at the observation post show his probable battle with masculinity and courage.
Within O’Brien’s narrative, the culture that war fosters amplifies American values of pride and honor into masculine behavior. This creates an internally oppressive system in which soldiers associate fighting for their country with suppressing their emotions and rejecting fear. Paul Berlin’s character development of becoming brave and desiring peace is prevalent encourages that he is having a plausible war experience. His contemplation of leaving the war is seen as: “That was the crazy thing about it – for all the difficulties, for all the hard times and stupidity and errors, for all that, it could truly be done” (O’Brien 48). Although fantasy and reality struggle to coexist in war, Berlin has found a realistic balance in considering and accepting the possibility that leaving “could truly be done”. His use of controlled fantasy to deal with trauma exemplifies his credible war experience. His realization of rationalizing peace is realistic since it does not go without intense feelings of fear and deep introspection that eventually leads to courage. The emotional standards of war such as bravery and loyalty are what show the plausibility of Berlin’s thought process and restrict him from embracing fantasy.
War puts such immense pressure on Berlin to express masculinity that his idealized version of himself as a soldier cannot even exist in reality. True expressions of bravery for Berlin either must be redefined to fit into the mold of reality, or completely fictionalized in his mind. This reality is exemplified when Berlin leaves his fellow soldiers that he is supposed to be guarding and goes down the ladder of the post. O’Brien writes: “It was his bravest moment” (O’Brien 62). This is an accurate example of war culture since it took bravery for Berlin to stray away from a group he was supposed to sacrifice his individuality for. In reflection, he can identify this as his bravest moment, since he is able to remove himself from the narrative of an idealized soldier and redefine the confines of bravery enforced by American culture. As his mental state deteriorates, the shift in his concept of true bravery is seen clearly through the arc of his fantasy.
When Berlin leaves the group and begins to explore the idea of leaving the war, his emotional state is described as: “Excited by the possibilities, but still in control” (O’Brien 63). In a sharp contrast to O’Brien’s descriptions of Berlin’s journey to Paris, Berlin is shown here by being in control of his fantasies with a real grasp on time, location, and his being. He is seeing leaving war as brave, and has not yet experienced the guilt that eventually destroys him. Furthermore, beyond attempting to balance fantasy and reality, he also grapples with his masculinity which shows he is aware and reacting to the reality of war expectations. O’Brien writes: “…that somewhere inside each man is a biological center for the exercise of courage” (O’Brien 81). Berlin believes that masculinity and courage are interdependent, a concept strongly encouraged by the military. His acute awareness of military and social standards demonstrate the credibility of the scenes. What is dangerous here for Berlin, is that courage has been explicitly defined by American culture. When he tries to redefine courage for himself, even his fantasies cannot withstand what has been ingrained in him for so long. Reality constantly threatens the stability of his fantasies where his concepts and viewpoints do not fit into what he has been conditioned to believe.
War creates a dangerous circumstance for fantasy and reality to coexist, especially because of expectations of masculinity and courage. War deters individual thought and imagination which actually causes the going against of a group think mindset to be one of the bravest things a soldier can do. Embracing individuality in United States’s troops has been struck down from sexuality to gender and claims of false loyalty are being used against those who strive for true self expression. This oppression forces soldiers to rely on fantasy to relieve their trauma which is dangerous and an ineffective way to properly treat PTSD. Paul Berlin has been forced to exist in a devastating reality in which the courage expected of him is impossible to achieve, and even in his fantasies cannot be redefined.
Thoughts on Courage
Throughout war literature, characters of soldiers are fundamentally exposed. Young men go to war and come out with countless stories and scars from their adventures. For tremendous acts of bravery, some soldiers are presented with awards such as the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. In the book The Thing They Carried, author Tim O’Brien explores the importance of courage. Many of the stories center around a single act of courage or cowardice that determines life or death for a member of the platoon, a civilian, or even a lone Vietnamese soldier. These daring deeds do not necessarily embody bravery in the same sense; nearly all of the stories depict a separate aspect of it. Although the character of Tim O’Brien fails to be brave in some of his anecdotes, he discusses his understanding of audacity and his observations of it in the worlds around him. In The Things They Carried, author Tim O’Brien describes his newfound understanding of courage; it develops with experience and is intertwined with fear of death and the apprehension of shame.
Throughout the stories, Tim O’Brien demonstrates the way he learns that courage grows through experience and preparation throughout the stories. In the beginning of “On the Rainy River,” he tells of the conclusion he reached after the war: “[Courage] comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down” (43). Tim comes to understand that courage is built up in experience and can be withdrawn from a person’s internal “account,”, similar to a bank. In “The Lives of the Dead,” Tim thinks back to fourth grade with his “girlfriend” Linda. When she is bullied by the other boys in the grade because of the hat she wears, Tim “wanted to do something about it, but it just wasn’t possible…so I stood off to the side, just a spectator, wishing I could do things I couldn’t do” (221). Tim remembers this time of cowardice and wonders how “if he could not fight little boys, he thought, how could he ever become a soldier and fight the Americans with their airplanes and helicopters and bombs?” (121). At this time, when he was initially drafted, he has not yet developed a thorough understanding of the origin of courage and assumes that he is no braver when he is eighteen years old than when he is nine years old. Later, when he grasps the meaning of courage, he decides: “Besides, it doesn’t get much easier with time, and twelve years later, when Vietnam presented much harder choices, some practice at being brave might’ve helped a little” (221). Tim wishes he could go back to stand up for Linda and “practice at being brave” so he can some courage in his bank. After the war and some reflection on his youth, he also recognizes that “if the stakes ever became high enough-if the evil were evil enough, if the good were good enough, I would simply tap a secret reservoir of courage that had been accumulating inside me over the years” (43). Tim realizes that courage is not an inflexible budget and that he can grow it with experience and use it in time of need.
O’Brien defines courage as something that often comes unexpectedly in the face of death. Close calls with death happen regularly in war, provoking unexpected bravery even from the seemingly weak. Tim kills a lone Vietnamese soldier and later recounts this impulsive, almost robotic experience: “I had already pulled the pin on the grenade. I had come up to a crouch. It was entirely automatic. I did not hate the young man; I did not see him as the enemy” (126). Tim later reveals that he was “afraid of him-afraid of something-and as he passed me on the trail I threw a grenade that exploded at his feet and killed him” (126). When he feels threatened by the oncoming soldier, he falls into an “automatic” subconscious state, where he does a thing that would otherwise require an enormous amount of willpower. Kiowa later tells O’Brien, “The man would’ve died anyway. He told me that it was a good kill, that I was a soldier and that I should shape up and stop staring and ask myself what the dead man would’ve done if things were reversed” (127). In this instance, courage is reflexive. However, the courage that wars cause can also lead soldiers to do irrational things that they would never have done outside the wars. In the short story “Enemies,” O’Brien tells the story of Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk, Jensen’s missing jackknife, and a silent tension that eventually drives Jensen to the point where he loses control. After nearly a week of insomnia and avoiding being alone with Strunk, he began “firing his weapon into the air, yelling Strunk’s name, just firing and yelling, and it didn’t stop until he’d rattled off an entire magazine of ammunition” (60). As insane as this act may seem, it is also brave on Jensen’s part. He feels extremely threatened by Lee Strunk and audaciously reacts unlike he ever would outside of war. The war causes the soldiers to do things they would never be brave enough to do otherwise.
O’Brien demonstrates how courage is directly related to the dread of shame, dishonor, and embarrassment. One of the first instances that O’Brien discusses this correlation in the short story “The Things They Carried,” when he references the motif of the “blush of dishonor” (20). O’Brien states that “Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to” (20). The soldiers in the war are afraid that if they did not fight they would be labeled a “coward” or a “sissy.” When Tim is drafted for the Vietnam War, he faces a similar worry. In the story “On The Rainy River,” he deliberates whether he should run from the war or fight in it. He thinks to himself, “I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile. I was afraid of walking away from my own life, my friends and my family, my whole history, everything that mattered to me” (42). O’Brien is more afraid of losing his dignity and being “exiled” by walking away from the war than he is about dying in it. He imagines townspeople chattering away at the café on Main Street, “coffee cups poised, the conversation slowly zeroing in on the young O’Brien kid, how the damned sissy had taken off for Canada” (43). O’Brien’s dream of the town shunning him for being a “damned sissy” if he runs from the war is powerful enough to change his mind. He tells himself on his way back from the edge of Canada: “I would go to war-I would kill and maybe die-because I was embarrassed not to” (57). O’Brien, like other soldiers, was afraid of war, but even more afraid of issues that might arise if he did not do his duty. This example exhibits how courage often springs from an intense fear of humiliation.
After the war, Tim O’Brien finally fully understands how courage is no fixed allotment and can be developed and used up; and that courage often arises fear of death and embarrassment. Tim gathers from his experiences and reflections that characteristic qualities can be recreated and a personality can be altered, especially in times of great emergency. In the war, soldiers are forced to become, or at least pretend to become, completely different people. They often have to do things they would never do otherwise, which definitely attributes to the changes in individuality. Tim concludes that war, along with other experiences, builds up a person’s supply of courage so that they can withdraw it when it is needed the most.
A Break from the Past: a Study of How the Things They Carried Break Ranks with Other Memoir Genres
The question of whether or not Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” conforms to the conventions of the memoir genre is a complex matter quite simply because it is a novel that deliberately blurs the lines of fact and fiction. The stories are based on real events, but hide behind the facade of pieces of fiction, which brings about a phenomenon known as story-telling truths. This makes the novel appear to be a memoir. Tim O’Brien paradoxically challenges both the conventions of a memoir as much as he does those of a novel, but in this essay, the main focus will be on how he challenges features typical of the memoir genre.
The episodes, categorised as a novel in the paperback edition, chronicle the experiences of a platoon in Vietnam, sharing their emotions, their at times black humour, and their shortcomings. It is structured as a series of short stories interspersed together with the same characters, each story developing each soldier’s experiences. O’Brien’s stories go back and forth in time, creating a memoir-like feeling. This is also a tool O’Brien utilises to get to different types of truth by presenting experiences in different ways. Such an informal structure is often prevalent in memoirs.
The arguably most notable convention of a memoir — telling the story from the first person — can be found throughout “The Things They Carried”. For instance, “On the Rainy River”, a short story about Tim O’Brien going to Canada with the intention of dodging the draft, is told in the first person from a character named after the author. This perpetuates the blurring of fiction and truth since it gives the text an autobiographical feature, yet the story is paradoxically classified as fictitious from the beginning. By fictionalising the events described in the novel, O’Brien gave himself free reign to explore his feelings and personal truths rather than what actually took place — he is able to distinguish between what actually happened during the Vietnam War from what appeared to happen from his own perspective.
Despite the fact that the author and the narrator appear to be similar, the narrator incessantly seeks to call into question the truthfulness of the stories he told both from his memory and from rumours. For instance, in “The Man I Killed”, the character O’Brien begins imagining a life eerily similar to his own for the solider he killed: “the young man would not have wanted to be a soldier and in his heart would have feared performing badly in battle” (p. 133). This quest for truth on his part leads the readers to follow a similar path. For instance, when O’Brien describes the fright and shock he felt after he killed another soldier, he leads the readers to believe him. However, he then casts doubt on the soldier’s mere existence, which once again seeks to undermine the veracity of the stories. The motivation behind such suspect contradictions is to emphasise the insignificance of factual truth, and to highlight what, to O’Brien, is actually important: the act of storytelling.
Another common feature of memoirs is that readers often aren’t told about how the author felt about whatever event occurred. Instead, they are shown through both the dialogue and the actions of the characters. This convention is prevalent in “The Things They Carried”, evidenced in the story “Style” as Azar “mocked the girl’s dancing. He did funny jumps and spins. He put the palms of his hands against his ears and danced sideways for a while, and then backwards, and then did an erotic thing with his hips” (p. 133), which suggests much about the way the soldiers are feeling as a result of the hardships of a war. O’Brien conveys the impression that the only way some soldiers can cope is by what could be seen as a crude, humoristic approach to the situations. He essentially debases the situation by transforming Azar into the archetypical “grunt.” However, he also presents a different image. Henry Dobbins, another solider, is shown to resent Azar’s disrespect, and the story is told with this in mind. This is seen when Dobbins “took Azar from behind and lifted him up high and carried him over to a deep well and asked if he wanted to be dumped in” (p. 136), to which Azar said no, which prompted the response: “Then dance right” (p. 136) from Dobbins.
The crux of the novel is essentially how O’Brien challenges the fact that most people dismiss stories as fiction when they could just as easily be true by playing around with the memoir genre. He intends for his novel to be read as a memoir, although it isn’t one. He utilises certain conventions from the memoir genre to challenge their very essence. The point isn’t to tell a story that actually happened, it’s about telling a story that the storyteller feels is accurate from the totality of his experiences. Throughout the whole novel, the overarching theme — more so than the Vietnam War — is literally storytelling as an act in itself, which is conveyed to be a platform that allows for the expression of one’s memory as well as a form of catharsis of the past. O’Brien even reflects on this, “I’m forty-three years old, and a writer now […] I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, […] and when I take a leap […] and come down thirty years later, I realise it is as Tim trying to save Timmy’s life with a story” (p. 236). The veracity behind the stories is secondary to the impact of the actual subject matter on the readers. To O’Brien, if a story “can evoke emotions in you”, it should be considered as a “type of truth”.
Metafiction and the Intention of the Author in the Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
In his masterpiece The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien writes a collection of heartbreaking, witty, unbelievable stories about a group of young American soldiers trudging through the war against Vietnam. The Things They Carried manages to convey the feelings associated with being in war without telling the reader what to feel. Critics and readers alike ask: what was O’Brien’s goal when he wrote this novel? What message was he trying to convey? Through several stories such as “Speaking of Courage,” O’Brien makes a statement about the fact that people are sensitive to the topic of war. The passing of war stories from soldier to soldier suggests that as taboo of a subject as it is, talking about war is important not only to educate others but to heal those traumatized by it. The use of metafiction throughout the book helps O’Brien to convey these messages. Tim O’Brien wrote The Things They Carried to address the fact that nobody wants to talk about war, but that, it still must be discussed in order to acknowledge the horrors that go on everyday and to help soldiers to heal. The metafiction in this novel is used primarily to convey this importance.
Throughout every story in the novel, it is shown how difficult it is for the soldiers to talk about their war experiences. In “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” it is mentioned how U.S. women back home will “never understand any of this, not in a million years” (O’Brien 108), a soldier’s expression of why he would never attempt to explain it to one. At the beginning of “On the Rainy River,” O’Brien expresses extreme shame for the story he proceeds to tell, saying he has never told anyone before. However, I found that the story that most displayed the difficulty of communication about war was “Speaking of Courage,” a story about Norman Bowker, a soldier returning home after years at war in Vietnam. Throughout the story, the reader hears Norman’s thoughts as he an considers telling his father, family, or old girlfriend about his experiences in Vietnam. He drives around his hometown, thinking about how everything seems exactly the same. It is clear to the reader that Norman feels that he has changed, and sees the town in a whole new light as a familiar yet foreign place. Norman feels that he no longer belongs, and no longer has a place in the world. It is expressed that Norman does not want to talk to his loved ones about the war because, while he can predict the exact reactions he would instigate, he knows that nobody will understand anything shares. He also feels that nobody cares.
In this story, O’Brien was trying to show soldiers’ and society’s aversion to talking about the tragedies of war, and the negative effects this has upon Bowker’s character. “The town could not talk, and would not listen. ‘How’d you like to hear about the war?’ he might have asked, but the place could only blink and shrug…The taxes got paid and the votes got counted…It was a brisk, polite town. It did not know shit about shit, and did not care to know” (O’Brien 137). This quote demonstrates Norman’s feelings that there was nobody he could talk to about the war: in his mind, his town “did not care to know.” The town is described as very organized and well-run; a town with all hustle and bustle, but with no emotion. When it comes to facing serious topics, such as what goes on in Vietnam, nobody wants to hear it. O’Brien uses this town to symbolize U.S. society, and Norman as a raumatized American soldier returning home to no place in the world and nobody to talk to about his experiences. This story shows the avoidance of the topic of war in U.S. society. Norman’s struggle with this fact shows the importance of facing it.
Once O’Brien properly conveys the negative affects of lack of conversation about war upon returning soldiers, it becomes clear that he displayed that message in order to show the importance of sharing war stories. This is shown throughout the book through the exchange of stories among soldiers. In “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” Rat Kiley tells Mitchell Sanders and Tim O’Brien’s character a story about experiences when he was stationed elsewhere. In “How to Tell a True War Story,” Sanders tells Tim a story about one of his close friends. The way the boys all tell each other stories reveals the importance of talking about the war. It is therapeutic. “‘Why not talk about it?’ Then he said, ‘Come on, man, talk’” (O’Brien 124). This quote shows how the soldiers consider it healing to talk to one another about what they’ve just seen. They feel comfortable talking to one another because all of them have experienced the same things, and it makes them feel understood. Storytelling helps them to remember, and in the remembrance, they are helped towards acceptance of what they have witnessed. The stories told by other soldiers are interlaced with metafiction, an insertion of O’Brien’s own thoughts. This makes his intentions more clear because in the passages of metafiction, O’Brien supports the lessons of the stories told with his own thoughts and opinions.
O’Brien’s use of metafiction in the novel helped to reveal his message more clearly because he was able to tell the readers how he felt. He often uses metafiction to break the reader out of the world of the stories by writing in the first person, referring to himself, addressing the reader specifically, etc. This aids O’Brien because it allows him to show the reader what war has done to him, and how he has been traumatized by the war. “Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now” (O’Brien 36). In this quote, taken from a metafictitious passage, O’Brien is reflecting upon the fact that even twenty years after his time in Vietnam, memories still catch up with him. The following few sentences of that passage support the fact that metafiction allows O’Brien to say that he is helped by the process of writing down his memories and sharing stories: “And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever…Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” This quote shows how the stories, because they put a kind of untouchable permanence to the war memories, allow relief from carrying those memories in one’s mind. In O’Brien’s opinion, it is easier to handle the memories in the form of stories, where they can be shared and spread. This shows the reader that we cannot avoid talking about war as we do, because of it’s level of tragedy, and also because it advances the healing process for soldiers.
In conclusion, O’Brien conveyed a clear message throughout his collection of war stories: people do not always like to address the sensitive topic of war. Even soldiers who return home after serving avoid the topic because they feel understood. However, O’Brien showed that it is important to share one’s stories because the sharing of stories helps people to accept what has happened to them. O’Brien intended to share this lesson because he has been through it himself, and understands how much the sharing of stories has helped him personally. In that aspect, the book as a whole is an example of how telling stories heals.
The fact that this is O’Brien’s intention is clear through stories such as “On the Rainy River” and “Speaking of Courage.” The stories the soldiers tell one another support this as well, and metafiction plays a very important role in revealing the message. In conclusion, Tim O’Brien’s intention in writing The Things They Carried was to share the message that while people may feel the need to avoid the topic of war, it is very important to address it because of the ways in which it helps soldiers to heal from the trauma they have suffered.
Social Weight and Single Men: the Use of Drugs, the Draft and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Watching friends die, being shot at, and dealing with the fact that death is looming around every is a reality for soldiers regardless of what side they are fighting on. Vietnam was an extremally controversial war, and much of the nation was opposed to the United States getting involved in the first place. Many veterans of the Vietnam war suffer from PTSD because of how brutal the war was, and since many people fighting in it were drafted into it. In “The Things They Carried” written by Tim O’Brien reader are given insight into the lives of soldiers fighting in the Vietnam war. Many of the characters from “The Things They Carried” struggled to come to grips with the reality they were in, instead imagined fantasy scenarios, such as the companies Lieutenant Jimmy Cross who is constantly fantasizing about a girl named Martha back home.
Jimmy Cross’s infatuation with Martha causes him to neglect his men and as a result while walking back to camp Ted Lavender is shot and killed instantly, some of his fellow soldiers watch this unfold (O’Brien 482-495). Knowing what these soldiers are thinking about, or even what they carry with them physically like drug to maintain an addiction or something mental like a distrust of white men shows a great deal about their character and how war has affect them. Learning about how much of an effect the war has on these people raises a question, does being drafted into a war negatively affect a person’s mental health? Being drafted into a war negatively affects a person’s mental health by, causing distrust in authority, increasing the chance of committing suicide even after the war, increasing the likelihood of PTSD, and encouraging low solider morale. This argument helps the audience to understand “The Things They Carried”.
Since Vietnam was such a controversial war many Americans didn’t agree with in the first place, many whom were picked to go resisted it. Many students held strikes to protest the war and questioned why American involvement in it was even a smart decision, “It was during this period that the President announced plans for expanding the war into Cambodia. This announcement sparked student protests, and the Kent State and Jackson State killings added fuel to what had quickly become a nation-wide student strike,” (Longino). At these protests against the government, people publicly burned their draft cards, and draft registrations, although this didn’t change anything or keep them from going to war it was a politically statement and a plead for help.
Men who could prove they were full time student were exempt from the war, but in 1971 this was changed, they could still be drafted but couldn’t deploy until they’re semester was ended. With these new laws passed protests were at an all-time high as people drafted could potentially lose out on their higher education and their lives as it was known Vietnam had a high mortality rate. “Those who drew low numbers, making them more vulnerable to the draft, came to favor dovish positions more often and remained less stable in their position on the war than those who drew high numbers,” (Longino). Those who were drafted into the war were more likely to have their opinions about the US government changed, and take up resistance against the war. Those drafted didn’t trust their government anyone as they felt betrayed. Mentally this can be detrimental knowing you going to have to put your entire life on hold whether you’re in college or not to possible lose your life in a war for a government you may not even trust in affects soldier’s mental health negatively.
In “The Things They Carried” distrust in the government is something that is very present. Since many of the soldiers who fought in the war did so because they were drafted into it this is no surprise. In the company, it is known that Kiowa carries a distrust for the predominantly white U.S government, “As a hedge against bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother’s distrust of the white man, his grandfather’s old hunting hatchet. Necessity dictated, (483 O’Brien). Many people alike Kiowa began to show distrust in the U.S government and being forced to fight for an authoritative figure that one believes Isn’t looking out for the people’s best interest is extremely detrimental. Once a solider went to Vietnam and saw the fighting conditions and the enemy they were fighting it solidified their distrust in the government even more so and losing faith in authority will make solider who are forced to fight want to get out even more so and these on edge feelings can even put other around them at risk by not fulling complying with commanding officer’s orders. This shows the audience how losing trust in authority can have negative effects on a soldier’s mental health.
When soldiers return home from war even years after they can still be plagued by long term issues that developed because of the war. Being drafted and forced to fight also has many long term negative effects on a person’s mental health as well. Even after the war veterans returning home from Vietnam were more likely to commit suicide and had higher mortality rates than the average citizen. “Research on the effects of Vietnam military service suggests that Vietnam veterans experienced significantly higher mortality than the civilian population at large,” (Heerwig, Conley). These suicidal thoughts, because of things like PTSD and survivors guilt usually stay with these veterans throughout the course of their lives and tears down their mental state. Many are unable to return to civilian life and get a job and gradually lose their sanity because of the atrocities they witness in war after they were drafted. Even after time went on the general attitude towards being drafted into fighting in Vietnam stayed constant, “However, an exception is with the central variable itself- Vietnam attitude. Here, we use responses to the ‘mistake’ question because that was asked in each post lottery wave. The lottery effect on responses to the question about Vietnam being a mistake,” (Erikson, Stoker). Even after decades lottery the negative attitude towards the war is still prevalent in those who survived the war, these men forced to fight in a war they didn’t agree with still feel like it was a mistake to go there and are burdened with regret. This is another negative affect of being drafted and forced to fight in a war someone may have not been prepared for.
Death is something that everyone has seen one television or an action-packed movie. Soldiers quickly realize that Hollywood’s glamorized portrayal of death is something completely fabricated and not an accurate representation. Watching a person die in real time haunts those who witness it for the rest of their lives long after they return from war. “They all carried ghosts,” (O’Brien 486). Carrying “ghosts” is figurative for caring the horrible things like watching friends die for the rest of their lives, like for example when Kiowa saw Ted get shot in the head, situations like this stay with these soldiers for the rest of their lives and are what bear down on them, and cause them to be more likely to try to commit suicide. Those drafted for the war and less prepared to witness this are even more so traumatized by it and reflect on the deaths of friends for the rest of their lives regretting the mistake of even going there in the first place. To avoid this mental strain it was common for some men to even self-inflict wounds on themselves, “By and large they carried these things inside, maintaining the masked of composure. They sneered at sick call. They spoke bitterly about guys who had found release by shooting off their own toes or fingers. Pussies, they’d say” (O’Brien). This immense mental strain is a huge burden and the increases likelihood for a person to take their own life is more evidence of how being forced to fight in war can affect a soldier’s mental health negatively. After being drafted and being forced to fight in a dangerous war doesn’t just stop affecting a person the second they get shipped back home. Witnessing all these atrocities causes a person to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” PTSD develops from the experience of an overwhelming or traumatic event.
Traumatic events that may cause PTSD are generally life-threatening events such as natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods), violent personal attacks (physical and sexual abuse, kidnapping, rape, violent crime), terrorist incidents (September 11), military combat, or accidents (plane, train, motor vehicle accidents), “(Shiromoto, Ronald). Traumatic events are a part of war and people drafted into it cannot do anything to avoid them. PTSD is especially common in Vietnam Veterans, “The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study in the 1980s, for instance, found that the lifetime incidence rate for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disorder with symptoms that may persist up to 40 years after service, was over 30% in male Vietnam veterans, “(Heerwig, Conley). For the rest of a persons life they can be haunted by the thoughts of dying friends, killing other people who may be forced to fight for their nation, and watching family mourn for fallen family members sticks with these people forever. PTSD while treatable isn’t like a normal illness that can be treated and forgotten about, years of therapy can help but whether it can be cured or simply come to terms with is subjective. PTSD is another factor that negatively affects a drafted soldier’s mental health. There are many traumatic events for a lot of O’Brien’s characters and is where they become traumatized. Watching other people die is usually a big cause so the men try to label death as something else “They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness. Greased they say. Offed, Lit up, zapped while zipping. It wasn’t cruelty, just stage presence. They were actors.
When someone died, it wasn’t quite dying, because in a curious way it seemed scripted, and because they had their lines mostly memorized irony mixed with tragedy, and because they called it by other names, as if to encyst and the destroy the reality of death itself,” (O’Brien 492). This is a way the soldier’s cope with death and try to make it lessen its impact on them. Unfortunately, sometimes death is not of an enemy they greased and justify with kill or be killed sometimes they’re fellow service men are killed. This is seen when Lt Jimmy Cross is hearing the details of Ted’s death “Kiowa explained how Lavender died, Lieutenant Cross found himself trembling. He tried not to cry. With his entrenching tool, which weighed five pounds, he began digging a hole in the earth. He felt shame. He hated himself. He loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was dead, and this was something he would have to carry in his stomach like a stone for the rest of the war,” (O’Brien 490). As a result of fantasizing about Martha Lt. Cross feels he is to blame for the death of Ted and will carry the shame of letting a member of his company forever. When Cross found was thinking about it he was physically trembling and blaming himself, this is how PTSD negatively affects the mental health of a drafted solider.
Low solider moral doesn’t seem like something horrible but it indeed is detrimental to a soldier’s mental health. Since mostly young people were drafted they mostly opposed the war and after drafted were more likely to have lower overall moral. “Given our self-interest mechanism, those with the most at stake should respond the most strongly. Those who are most likely to be drafted—young people—should be especially opposed to a draft war,”( Horowitz, Levendusky 526). Drafting from the younger demographic opposed to the war cause the low moral epidemic, people who didn’t want to fight in Vietnam fought like people who didn’t want to fight in Vietnam. Some even went so far to flee the country or be imprisoned in order to avoid being drafted into the military, “They could elect to go to jail for up to five years. Some men entered the military, but later regretted it and chose to desert. Some men were unable to find deferments or could not face jail. Both of these groups were forced to go into exile and went into hiding all over the world, including underground in the United States. Canada and Sweden were the best places to go in order to avoid risk of arrest or extradition for violation of Selective Service or military laws,” (Maxwell). The extent of what many drafted men were willing to do to get out of the war proves how much it lower their moral and deteriorated their mental health.
Drafted men who followed through with their military service did so to avoid the judgement of others. They feared being ridiculed for avoiding military service so had to follow through.” They died so as not to die of embarrassment. They crawled into tunnels and wailed point and advanced under fire. Each morning, despite the unknowns they made their legs move. They endured.” (O’Brien 492-493). With low morale and scared of ridicule the men endured the pain and suffering. The constant fear of showing others you were fearful devastated solider moral since they didn’t want to be label cowards. Even tasks the men carried out were depressing, “They moved like mules. By the daylight they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. They marched for the sake of the march,”(O’Brien 489). The endless march is what can drive a person with already low moral mad, constant fear of death, watching friends die, and never really gaining ground is physiologically detrimental. Therefore, low moral can negatively affect a solider mental health.
War is not for everyone some people are physically and mentally prepared for what may be thrown at them. Generally, people forced into it may not be as ready for it as those who volunteered. Drafting soldiers into the war has negatively affects their mental health by causing distrust in authority, increasing the likelihood of committing suicide, increasing the chance of developing PTSD, and causing low solider moral. Knowing these points help the audience to understand the actions of O’Briens characters like why Kiowa carries distrust in the white man, or that Jimmy Cross is developing PTSD as a result of blaming himself for Ted Lavender’s death. Although “The Things They Carried” isn’t non ficition and the characters are made up, they represent real things that Tim O’Brien experienced in the war and carry a power message showing how the war affects those involved. Drafting people into a war should be something done as a last resort since it can be even more detrimental to those drafted, and soldiers with low moral may be doing more harm than good.
- Conley, Dalton, and Jennifer Heerwig. “The Long-Term Effects of Military Conscription on Mortality: Estimates From the Vietnam-Era Draft Lottery.” Demography, vol. 49, no. 3, 2012, pp. 841–855., www.jstor.org/stable/23252673.
- Longino, Charles F. “Draft Lottery Numbers and Student Opposition to War.” Sociology of Education, vol. 46, no. 4, 1973, pp. 499–506., www.jstor.org/stable/2111903. Horowitz, Michael C., and Matthew S. Levendusky. “Drafting Support for War: Conscription and Mass Support for Warfare.” The Journal of Politics, vol. 73, no. 2, 2011, pp. 524–534., www.jstor.org/stable/10.1017/s0022381611000119.
- Conley, Dalton, and Jennifer Heerwig. “The War at Home: Effects of Vietnam-Era Military Service on Postwar Household Stability.” The American Economic Review, vol. 101, no. 3, 2011, pp. 350–354., www.jstor.org/stable/29783768.
- Maxwell, Donald W. “Young Americans and the Draft.” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 20, no. 5, 2006, pp. 37–39., www.jstor.org/stable/25162083.
- ERIKSON, ROBERT S., and LAURA STOKER. “Caught in the Draft: The Effects of Vietnam Draft Lottery Status on Political Attitudes.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 105, no. 2, 2011, pp. 221–237., www.jstor.org/stable/41495063
- Doctor, Ronald M., and Frank N. Shiromoto. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”The Encyclopedia of Trauma and Traumatic Stress Disorders, Facts On File, 2009.
- Health Reference Center, online.infobase.com/HRC/Search/Details/123201?q=PTSD Soldiers. Accessed 2017.
A Study of Linda and Catherine’s Role in the Things They Carried
Throughout The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien often alludes to Kathleen, his daughter, and Linda, his childhood friend with cancer. However, Kathleen and Linda do not exist. O’Brien includes them in his story because they allow him to interact with the reader within the text without actually interacting with the reader personally. Kathleen represents the reader in the text, one who can interact with Tim O’Brien and alter the things he says. Linda, on the other hand, represents the way storytelling and memory can alleviate the pain in any traumatic situation in the past.
Kathleen appears in O’Brien’s stories many times, most notably in “Field Trip” where O’Brien takes Kathleen, his daughter to Vietnam on vacation. The difficulty of explaining his experiences in Vietnam to Kathleen is evident in the frustration of his tone when he says, “At the same time, however, she’d seemed a bit puzzled. The war was as remote to her as dinosaurs and cavemen.” (183) If Kathleen represents the reader, this suggests that O’Brien believes we are similarly out of touch, requiring explanation for everything he says and does. This idea of Kathleen as the reader is evident in this exchange: “Kathleen sighed. ‘Well I don’t get it. I mean, how come you were even here in the first place?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘Because I had to be.’ ‘But why?’”(183) Her misunderstanding and need for explanation are apparent, and it is equivalent to the reaction of a reader to the text. But what is also on display here is O’Brien’s almost disinterest with the explanation. “Because I had to be” is never an adequate response to a child’s curious nature. O’Brien’s disinterest suggests that he does not care if the reader does not understand or like what he is saying, or not know why he is saying it. He is simply writing to alleviate the pressures on his mind. Writing serves many purposes for him, first and foremost as a method of catharsis, a way in which to alleviate such traumatic memories of what happened in Vietnam.
It is also possible that in the dialogue quoted above, Kathleen takes the form of O’Brien’s inner conscience, a conscience perhaps still confused about the purpose of the war, and his role in the war. In “On the Rainy River”, O’Brien describes his doubts and fears about going to the war after getting the request of his presence in Vietnam. Perhaps, as mentioned above, Kathleen is a representation of those questions that still remain, a literal figure to ask them without O’Brien having to leave character in the story.
Linda is portrayed in “The Lives of the Dead” as Timmy’s nine year old friend and his first true love. It is revealed later that she has a brain tumor, and she subsequently dies, much to the dismay of a young Tim. O’Brien include her in the story to illustrate the healing power of imagination, and also to foreshadow events. O’Brien’s immortalization of her is similar to his immortalization of Kiowa later; through writing, he make those meaningful people in his life eternal through stories. While Linda does not exist, she provides a way for O’Brien to describe a truth without breaking character. O’Brien tries to explain his methods with a quote on page 230 when he says, “The things about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head.” (230) He is revealing that the origin of stories is dreams, and that the origin of his storytelling career started with his dreams about Linda: “Lying in bed at night, I made up elaborate stories to bring Linda alive in my sleep. I invented my own dreams.” (243)
Linda and Kathleen are included in this book for separate reasons. Kathleen is the materialization of the reader in the text, who, to O’Brien, seems childish and naïve when it comes to Vietnam. Linda is O’Brien’s way of demonstrating his theory on story-telling: its purposes and origins. The inclusion of the two characters into the story effectively demonstrate O’Brien’s desire to stay in character while explaining the truths of his experience.