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The Importance Of Metafiction As A Literary Device In The Things They Carried

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The Vietnam War was a period of history in which some great pieces of fiction were created. The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien is a great example of one of these pieces of fiction. A big part of this novel was O'Brien's theme of metafiction. Metafiction is a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction. This in another sense means that metafiction is the act of writing about writing. This literary device is used in The Things They Carried, as O'Brien's method to systematically remind his readers that the stories that he is telling are fiction but that sometimes stories can be more real than reality itself.

O'Brien explains the concept of stories and what role they serve to the storyteller at the end of one of the chapters in The Things They Carried. "Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. 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. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story" (pg. 40). O'Brien wants his readers to take note that remembering an event and actually telling a story about the event are two parts of a whole. Stories are pieces of what we remember, tossed in with more interesting and appealing details, to give the outsider a sense of what it might have been like if they were to experience this same occurrence. This is how O'Brien draws his readers into his novel of short stories, by explaining that stories act as a function of our memory. But, that memory and story are two very different things.

Sometimes living through an event and actually telling a story about that same event can lead to two very separate anecdotes. Have you ever told a story, but adjusted some of the finer details in order to make it more appealing to another? People do this. It is just human nature to try and convince someone else that the event was genuinely intriguing. O'Brien does this within the storyline of The Things They Carried, by using metafiction to distinguish his storytelling and how to tell stories according to his thoughts. "By telling Stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. 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." (pp.180-181). In the process of storytelling, O'Brien wants the reader to understand that people tend to exaggerate occurrences that didn't happen in order to explain the truth.

Exaggeration

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