The things they carried was published in 1990 and is regarded as an outstanding fictional work that is based on a platoon of American soldiers who participated in the Vietnam war and how they are fought boredom and trauma of combat throughout the Vietnam War. While it seems it is based on the experiences of O’Briens, the cover page recognizes the book as a work of fiction. In one of the short stories, Good Form, the narrator draws a clear cut distinction between the happening truth and the story truth. The author, O’Brien, has a feeling that, creating a story that is false but truthfully depicts war rather than just stating the truths and creating little or no emotion on the reader was the only way to make his conscience clear and even tell the narrative of many soldiers. Many critics mostly cite this distinction in their critique. Reviewers of this book commend the writer’s combination of fiction account and even nonfiction. The book has also generated criticism especially on the unclear nature of stories and also in the metafictional quality in his techniques of storytelling.
The book, The Things Carried, is made up of interconnected short stories. These stories make use of elements of different forms-fantasy, fiction, memoir, literary commentary, author’s notation and nonfiction and it focuses on the war in Vietnam and the traumatic post war period. The opening story, The Things They Carried, focuses on the things the soldiers carried to the battle. This ranges from items such as jungle boots and even personal letters to feelings such as grief, shame and rage. Many Critics have praised this story as an insightful and fitting introduction to book characters. Most of the pieces try to explore the storytelling process and also reflect the confusion of the war knowledge: some episodes are from other sources, or are still remembered after the fact; some of which are stories which are overheard and even repeated in the oral tradition. Many other stories are said to feature a character by the name of Tim O'Brien who makes comments on the writing of the stories process some twenty years down the line. The interplay that exists between imagination and memory makes it more difficult for the reader to differentiate between the false elements of the story and the truthful ones.
The narrator in the book who in many scenes recalls and tries to elaborate the stories; in some other stories he is not seen as the narrator until and after the completion of the narrative. In the story, The Man I killed, the narrator, O’Brien, tries to revise the story of his mental lapse immediately after killing an opponent soldier-only to later or find that his revised version is as well invented. The story “Speaking of Courage” gives a chronicle of the alienation and grief that strikes Norman Bowker a war veteran in Vietnam, who is not able to articulate his disgrace over his in the ability to save his mate from the demise in combat on returning home to Iowa. In a codicil to the story, Notes, the narrator tells the readers that the initial version of the story “Speaking of Courage” was printed in the year 1975 suggesting Bowker who three years down the line killed himself in Iowa. The short story of "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" shows how Rat Kiley, the main actor, chronicles the weird story of Mary Anne, who follows her school sweetheart to Vietnam and she then transforms into a terrorist. Towards the end of this article full of fantasies, as she disappears in the thicket putting on a human tongues necklace, Kiley is correlating information from other sources and here the story becomes a legend. The story, How to Tell a True War Story, meditates on the correlation of truth to story telling. In a section of the story, a soldier tells of the story of a six man-patrol that is sent to the mountains and there they undergo traumatic experiences. When the soldier applies a moral and tries to revise the story, the narrator finds out that, the innate truth of the initial version. To him, a true story is one that is based on what actually happened rather where the varied ways used in rewriting and retelling the traumatic experience. A healthy criticism arises here that, traumatic experiences are recirculated and endlessly filtered in these stories. In a different section of the story “How to Tell a True War Story, Rat brutally kills young water buffalo for no good reason-this angers a listener during O'Brien's book readings later on. He O'Brien then retells this story repetitively. Finally he puts it out that it was a fictional exercise that was meant to communicate trauma and its effects without using his personal experiences
Critique on Major Themes
Many critics affirm that the main theme of this anthology is the correlation of storytelling, and truth. They discuss the Authors interest in transcending the reality to symbolize the truths of his traumatic war experience as a distinguishing feature in this book. Many commentators on the book note that for the author, the question of verisimilitude and originality in relation to war experiences is vague; rather a story’s originality has its foundations on the effects of the reader. As the author states, a story is held true if has the ability of “making the stomach believe.” The book reviewers claim that, the stories in this book address the consequences of combat trauma and the fight for redemption and also recovery. The function of memory is an essential aspect in all the stories in this anthology. Besides, the theme of cowardice is also addressed in this book. Many critics have analyzed the masculine and feminine representation in the book. Other major themes that are looked at in this book are the issues of alienation and exile.
This book is considered valuable in its contribution to the canon of Vietnam war literature. Commentators have frequently discussed the type or genre of the book. Many have claimed that it is a composite novel rather than a group of interrelated short stories. Some reviewers have even gone further to explain tat this book is a continuation of the authors first two narratives on the Vietnam War i.e. if I die in a combat Zone of 1973 which is an autobiography and Going after Cacciato which is a novel published in the year 1998. Critics have referred to O’Brien’s work as a work of metafiction. This is due to the tendency of the stories reflecting upon their own format, status, and even function. The author’s concentration in memory and story telling has led to critics comparing his book (The Things They Carried) to the work of Joseph Conrad and Marcel Proust. In addition, the author’s war stories have been compared to other works by other writer on war stories such as civil war stories of Ambrose Birce and the works of classical stories by Homer. O'Brien's War stories did not go without praise. Many professionals in the mental health sector have praised his works. However many critics congratulate his competence to memorize his experience during the war and as such they view his works in this anthology as his best accomplishment in fiction work.
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Harold, B. Tim O'Brien's "The things they carried." New York: Infobase publishing., 2005.
O'Brien, Jill. CliffsNotes O'Brien's "The Things They carried." New York: IDG Books Worl wide, 2000.
Tim, O. "The Things They Carried." NewYork: Houghton Mifflin HarCourt, 2009.