- Term Papers and Free Essays

The Things They Carried

Essay by   •  December 24, 2010  •  1,966 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,651 Views

Essay Preview: The Things They Carried

Report this essay
Page 1 of 8

Eisenschmidt 1

Joshua Eisenschmidt

Professor Valdina

English 101

November 25, 2004

The Weight They Carried

The Vietnam War has sparked many writers to create novels and autobiographies about their experiences and horrors of the war. Tim O'Brien has written several Vietnam stories and books about his experience and has received many awards including the very prestigious French award, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger award for fiction for his book The Things They Carried (Book Reporter). In a prepublication interview in 1989, O'Brien himself was quoted in saying, "my best book. There's no doubt in my mind about it." (Naparsteck, 8). The Things They Carried is broken up into a collection of short stories put together within the book. Readers should understand that even though the actual and fictional O'Briens have some things in common, The Things They Carried is a work of fiction, but truth can be found within this work of fiction. Each part of the book is essential in the overall influence of the book. Two of the stories, "How to Tell a True War Story" and "The Man I Killed" are both important aspects of this book and without them the book would not be finished. This paper will identify and describe the importance of irony, theme, and the setting of these two stories while giving some background information on Mr. O'Brien, because of its vital importance in the understanding of Mr. O'Brien's work.

Eisenschmidt 2

Tim O'Brien was born on October 1, 1946 to William T. and Eva E. Schultz O'Brien in Austin, Minnesota. They lived in Austin for ten years until moving to Worthington, Minnesota. Tim attends Marticulates at Macalaster College in St. Pual, Minnesota where he would later graduate in 1968 summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with B.A. in political science. While in college O'Brien opposed the war and worked for Eugene McCarthy's campaign, a presidential candidate in 1968 who openly opposed the Vietnam War (Cliff Notes, "about the author") Tim O'Brien would be drafted two weeks after he graduated from college.

He felt the war was wrong, but couldn't quite get him self to flee to Canada and dodge the draft. He took a trip to Rainy River where he would decide his future, which he explains in his book The Things They Carried in the short story titled, "On the Rainy River". Here O'Brien would decide to return home and join the army and fight for his country. Although O'Brien had serious reservations about the war and quite often voiced his opinions in his college's editorial pages he decides to pick his country over himself (Cliff Notes, "summary")

Many readers want to hear real war stories from this decorated Vietnam soldier not just stories that play with fictional and non fictional facts. Mr. O'Brien feels that readers shouldn't be caught up in the actual facts of his war stories but with the emotional struggles these soldiers face while in combat: "if you're working with something honest, you will always tap into your own experience." (60 Minutes).

Eisenschmidt 3

In chapter 6 of The Things They Carried comes a very important section in this book. The title is "How to Tell a True War Story" and is an inside look on what O'Brien feels makes a "true" war story or in this case why there is not such thing as a "true" war story. "In a true war story, if there's a moral at all, it's like the thread that makes the cloth." ("O'Brien, How to Tell a True War Story"). This chapter is crucial in understanding O'Brien's reasoning behind truth and reality when it comes to war stories. Through the authors' stories within this chapter the readers are made aware of the "bloody realities of what it must be like to be engaged in combat and to wonder whether one will make it through the day alive." (Catherine Dybie). Three important aspects of this section that aid in the understanding of it are irony, theme, and the setting.

Irony is an important part of this story, because it involves the title of it. O'Brien feels that in war it is difficult to remember exactly what happened, therefore making it impossible to tell a true war story. "In war you lose your sense of definite, hence your sense of truth itself, and therefore it is safe to say that in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true." ("How to Tell a True War Story") According to Rosemary King, in the Explicator, O'Brien uses the word "true" to mean "either factually accurate, or something higher and nobler."(pg3). The irony of O'Brien's use of the word "true" in the title of this short piece is that for O'Brien there is no stable sense of truth or reality when it comes to war (Holm, Catherine). O'Brien's title is ironic in the sense that he is saying that it is impossible to write a true war story, but has a section in his book. He believes that when you are in combat your sense of the truth is obscured, therefore making it difficult to tell a story that is true afterwards.

Eisenschmidt 4

The central idea of this story is also one that O'Brien frequently uses in many of his writings. For many Vietnam writers the remembrance of a specific story is many times the key in his/her work. "It comes down to gut instinct. A true war story, if told truly told, makes the stomach believe." ("How to Tell a True War Story") In "How to Tell a True War Story" O'Brien takes the same story and tells it four different ways which is to make the reader realize how a story can differ each time it is told. When O'Brien begins some stories it is almost like he has forgotten he has told them before. It makes you question whether the story is actually accurate or if the narrator is just confused which brings us to the theme of this short story. The overall theme of this story could be said to be one of memory and reminiscence and how they can be tainted through the emotional battle of war.

Just like many of O'Brien's work this story is told through flashbacks that involve the battle field and what happened on it in "How to Tell a True War Story". In "How to Tell a True War Story" the setting changes, because he uses stories to relay his message within in



Download as:   txt (11 Kb)   pdf (129.9 Kb)   docx (13.1 Kb)  
Continue for 7 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2010, 12). The Things They Carried. Retrieved 12, 2010, from

"The Things They Carried" 12 2010. 2010. 12 2010 <>.

"The Things They Carried.", 12 2010. Web. 12 2010. <>.

"The Things They Carried." 12, 2010. Accessed 12, 2010.