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The Things They Carried

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Autor:  anton  24 November 2010
Tags:  Things,  Carried
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Composition and Communication

August 23, 2006

O’Briens’ Perspective and Statements in Regard to Storytelling

and Relationship to the Truth.

Each day that we live our lives we are faced with the opportunity to believe and tell many stories and dramatizations. As a young child in Hebrew School you were taught that the world was created in six days and on the seventh day God rested. In a Christian home you were told about Saint Nick. On a juvenile level, stories serve a purpose to teach something and to give hope. As adults we continue to tell stories to ease the pain of a subject or to get us through a hard time. A mother that has lost a son in a tragic accident will never be told by the doctor that her son died in pain, but the doctor might say he died peacefully. Tim O’Brien uses storytelling in his book to teach lessons from the war, and to have us understand about the baggage that he and his fellow men had to carry.

Before the book even begins there is a page which really helps to set the tone for the book. It also helps the reader to better understand the pages ahead.

This book is essentially different from any other that has been published concerning the ’late war’ or any of incidents. Those who have had any such experiences as the author will see its truthfulness at once, and to all other readers it is commended as a statement of actual things by one who experienced them to the fullest. (O’Brien Prologue)

This passage is interesting if the reader knows nothing about the book at this point the reader might question the passage, what does this mean? If you are one of the few people who read a book completely cover to cover, the publishers page states “This is a work of fiction. Except for a few details regarding the author’s own life all incidents, names, and characters are imaginary (O’Brien Prologue). You have no what is going to be real or fiction.

In the first chapter of The Things They Carried, O'Brien lists all of what each man brings with them to war. It seems very truthful, but there is doubt in your mind as to whether or not Jimmy Cross really carried letters from a girl named Martha or even if a girl named Martha really existed. So what is the point? The point is to connect people and stories. If O’Brien wanted, he could have written another typical war novel connecting people, places, and the battles they fought but, O’Brien chooses not to. Rather he chooses to take us on a journey into the minds of each of the thirteen soldiers in the book telling us about how they felt and the emotions they were going through.

In the chapter of the book “Spin”, O'Brien talks about telling stories. He tells us “Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are”. (O’Brien 38) Yet O’Brien uses stories to get his points across to a younger generation, perhaps a generation that really does not understand the war completely. For someone in their late teens or twenties today, it is possible that they may know the facts about the war and what the outcome was, but do they really know how the story ended? Does a person in their twenties understand how a soldier feels when their friend is shot? O’Brien wants to make this vividly clear.

Azar was a soldier in the book who had two faces. Mainly, Azar was sarcastic and has what most would call a twisted and sick sense of humor. On the other hand there occasions in the book where Azar becomes more serious and regrets some of the comments he has made. O’Brien wants us to see how the war changes people on a short and long term basis. When Azar is confronted by a boy with one leg who asks him for a chocolate bar he gives it to him, but is sarcastic saying that the other leg should have been shot off as well. When they are looking for Kiowa’s body, Azar eventually feels some connection and says, “Those Dumb jokes- I didn’t mean anything” (O’Brien 174).

In the case of Azar, O’Brien is clearly doing what he does best, pulling us in making us have a connection directly to the characters. O’Brien says in a lecture at George Mason University, that “stories make us feel more connected to one another”. (O’Brien). Had O’Brien not included the story of the chocolate bar, then our connection to Azar would not have been as strong. It is the first positive or compassionate act that we see Azar perform.

In the Chapter entitled “How to Tell a True War Story”, O’Brien tells us how “a true war story is never moral” and how “in a true one it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen” (O’Brien 71). Yet, all of the accounts seem so real. Each story each person’s history has a deep impact on the reader and the way the reader feels about the character. If you look at Mark Fossie and Marry Anne it becomes quite clear. As Mark waited for Marry Anne’s arrival, not in his wildest dreams would he have planned on her becoming part of the war. She learns to embrace life in Vietnam. She learns to use the weaponry and learns to take cover. By this example, it makes the reader realize how close each one of us are to becoming part of the war. This is a theme that is continual throughout the book.

Through the stories told we see how O’Brien did not originally want to go into the war. In a transcript from a speech given at Brown University, he states “On the one hand, I did oppose the war. It seemed to me that certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons - that is to say, the reasons for the war were all under dispute.” In the book we see this as O’Brien goes to the lake and stays with Elroy Berdahl. It is at this point that O’Brien thinks about running to Canada and leaving the country and the war. While the whole story may not be true, and perhaps Elroy never offered him money it is feasible that he did go to ponder what decision he should make.

One of the last stories told by O’Brien is about his return trip to Vietnam in 1990. It is true that O’Brien returned to Vietnam he did so to have a conference with American and Vietnamese writers in Hanoi (NY Times). Yet he did not go with Kathleen, his daughter who he does not have nor did he go to visit the site of Kiowa’s death. So why write about? Again he is trying to make us feel the connection to the individual and to him. Even though the war was over it was not finished. The memories and the trauma still existed and were present each day.

So is the book real or true? While not all of the event took place exactly as told, they are all told with a sense of passion. In order for O’Brien’s readers to become attached it was necessary to embellish or add to what went on. “Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness…In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story. Sometimes it’s just beyond telling” (O’Brien 71). I think O’Brien did a good job of telling the story of what some went through before, after, and during Vietnam. While we know that not everything is true, and Saint Nick may not be real, there is no harm in illustrating a point to a child or an audience of readers.

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