Throughout The Things They Brought, Tim O’Brien often mentions Kathleen, his daughter, and Linda, his youth buddy with cancer. However, Kathleen and Linda do not exist. O’Brien includes them in his story since they allow him to interact with the reader within the text without in fact interacting with the reader personally. Kathleen represents the reader in the text, one who can engage with Tim O’Brien and change the things he says. Linda, on the other hand, represents the method storytelling and memory can minimize the pain in any distressing situation in the past.
Kathleen appears in O’Brien’s stories many times, most significantly in “Sightseeing tour” where O’Brien takes Kathleen, his child to Vietnam on holiday. The problem of discussing his experiences in Vietnam to Kathleen appears in the aggravation of his tone when he says, “At the exact same time, nevertheless, 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 thinks we are likewise out of touch, requiring explanation for whatever 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 imply, how come you were even here in the first place?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I stated, ‘Due to the fact that I had to be.’ ‘However why?'”( 183) Her misunderstanding and need for explanation are apparent, and it is comparable to the response of a reader to the text. But what is also on display here is O’Brien’s nearly disinterest with the explanation. “Because I needed to be” is never an appropriate response to a kid’s curious nature. O’Brien’s disinterest suggests that he does not care if the reader does not understand or like what he is stating, or not understand why he is stating it. He is simply writing to alleviate the pressures on his mind. Composing serves lots of purposes for him, primarily as a method of catharsis, a method which to alleviate such traumatic memories of what happened in Vietnam.
It is also possible that in the discussion priced estimate above, Kathleen takes the type of O’Brien’s inner conscience, a conscience possibly 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 demand of his presence in Vietnam. Perhaps, as mentioned above, Kathleen is a representation of those concerns that still remain, an actual figure to ask without O’Brien having to leave character in the story.
Linda is depicted in “The Lives of the Dead” as Timmy’s nine years of age good friend and his very first true love. It is exposed later that she has a brain tumor, and she subsequently dies, much to the discouragement of a young Tim. O’Brien include her in the story to show the healing power of creativity, and also to foreshadow events. O’Brien’s immortalization of her is similar to his immortalization of Kiowa later on; through writing, he make those significant individuals in his life eternal through stories. While Linda does not exist, she offers a method for O’Brien to explain a truth without breaking character. O’Brien attempts to explain his techniques with a quote on page 230 when he states, “The things about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others may then dream together with you, and in this method memory and creativity 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 profession began with his dreams about Linda: “Depending on bed at night, I made up sophisticated stories to bring Linda alive in my sleep. I created my own dreams.” (243)
Linda and Kathleen are consisted of in this book for separate factors. Kathleen is the materialization of the reader in the text, who, to O’Brien, appears childish and naïve when it comes to Vietnam. Linda is O’Brien’s way of showing his theory on story-telling: its purposes and origins. The addition of the two characters into the story successfully demonstrate O’Brien’s desire to stay in character while discussing the facts of his experience.