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Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried Essay


The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a hybrid text of the personal experiences and the intense imagination of the author. The title is a direct referral to the sneaky travel of the Vietnamese soldiers which brought a rifle and rice throughout the Vietnam War. This contrasts strikingly with the tools, weapons, and individual objects that were brought by American soldiers.

The book is in fact several smaller stories which covers the beginning of the Vietnam War, the procedure of war, and the re-adjustment of soldiers back into American society.

O’Brien strongly applies his belief that authors typically need to use “lies” and “half realities” to convey the real truth to their audience. Through using literary distortion O’Brien properly depicts the Vietnam War, and the problems which dealt with Americans throughout this time while consciously excluding much of the political issues which breathed life into Vietnam crisis.

O’Brien utilizes a fascinating and unique approach in composing this book.

The Things They Brought is essentially a collection of stories which function to together as a book. O’Brien actively work versus the literary belief that fact can only be interacted through realism. While literary realists aim to document occasions as they in fact take place, O’Brien wished to document the feeling experienced by the storyteller. O’Brien in addition to a number of postmodern authors think that realism is really not able to convey honest feeling and the “size” of an experience to the reader.

It is just through the distortion of the events that the genuine experience can be communicated. A crucial component in O’Brien having the ability to portray the events and feeling of the Vietnam War is his deliberate blurring of fact and fiction. “The Important Things They Brought” is subtitled as “a work of fiction” and offers the following disclaimer “all the occurrences, names, and characters are imaginary.” However, the stories are composed in very first person and reads like a personal memoir. The primary character is called Tim O’Brien.

Tim O’Brien, the genuine author, is veteran of the Vietnam war. The intentional blurring of truth with fiction is utilized by O’Brien to rebuild the fragmented and unreal experiences of the Vietnam War. The use of distortion can be found in the story “The Male I Killed”. O’Brien, the character, tells the story of how he eliminated an opponent solider with a grenade. He goes on to explain the consuming and ever present regret over the event. Chapters later on, O’Brien mentions that “I did not kill him.

But I existed, you see, and my presence was regret enough.” The reader feels lied too and questions what is fact and what is fiction. The psychological control produces a massive amount of confusion in the reader and skepticism of the author. This mirrors the emotion and betrayal felt by the baffled American soldiers who did not comprehend what they were battling or who they were combating. O’Brien continues to explain “every story is made up” and like war there is “no clearness.” The retelling of war tale is “about sadness” and “outright occurrence is irrelevant.”

O’Brien does an excellent task of dealing with a significant American concern surrounding the Vietnam war– it’s collective consciousness. The story “Sweetie of the Song Tra Bong” centers around Rat Kiley who is a medic with a propensity for storytelling that included exaggeration and significant license. He states a story about Medic Fossie who had the ability to bring the love of his life to Vietnam. Upon her arrival she became so consumed with the war she signed up with the Green Berret and ends up being a savage animal which stalks the jungles in her “pink sweater, and a locket of human tongues.”

While the story is amusing it is likewise used as an allegory to the effects of war which turned regular men into killers. A larger generalization can be made from the story about the dehumanization of humans through war. O’Brien utilizes Medic Rat to describe the impacts of the war on the American consciousness. He comments “What occurred to her, Rat said, was what occurred to all of them. You come over clean and you get dirty and after that afterward it’s never ever the exact same.”

This held true of the men who served in the war. Veterans to this day have never been able to make peace along with sense out of their activities in Vietnam. Similarly, the American society has actually never been able to understand the war because it refused to be responsible for their part in starting war that should have never taken place. The Vietnam War was the first war which was not laterally supported by all members and government authorities of the United States. It polarized the nation and the heavy cloud of regret and unsuitable conduct of the federal government still haunts the history and soldiers that battled in the Vietnam War.

The weakness in The Things They Carried exists in the lack of any truth within the story and O’Brien’s creativity is strangely limited to only his experiences with the war. While reality in feeling and frame of mind of the American soldier is conveyed little else is. O’Brien provides no strong historic context to these experiences. He does not directly challenge any of the causes or long term effects the war has had. By limiting the text of the novel to just the American experience, his experience, he does not accurately depict the pain and long suffering of the Vietnamese people.

His unique approach to the traditional war novel is just that “novel”. He fails to attend to many of the crucial political issues which added to the war and in doing so encourages the memory of the Vietnam War as a one sided fight in between the excellent and bad– them and us. O’Brien declares to be politically minded however no where with in the text does he discuss imperialism, systematic murder of the Vietnamese, the devastating environmental results of the war, or the United States trade embargo that has left Vietnam bad and it’s people starving.

He focuses on abstract concepts like courage, justice, and evil. O’Brien, in The Important Things They Brought screams about the lack of knowledge of the American people and the blind nationalism of the people in Vietnam. While at the exact same time stopping working to correct or perhaps talk about these problems within his novel. If O’Brien focused similarly on his individual experiences as well as the bigger political experience, The important things They Carried would be both a true war book and an important piece of American history.

O’Brien uses content and structure to communicate the frame of mind of American soldiers as well as the collective American consciousness. The structure of the book is several smaller “fragmented” stories told from various viewpoints. While a lot of the stories use the exact same occasions the details and real motivations of these events change the persona of the story teller modifications.

The visual worth of O’Brien unorthodox approach is unmistakable however in focusing on the style he neglects the fundamental reasons why the war happened in the first location. Along with America’s function in the damage of nation and it’s individuals. The Vietnam War is steeped in fantastic debate and myth. It is only through the sharing of reality war stories integrated with precise historic and political reporting that the reality and the real experience of the Vietnam War can be known.


O’Brien, Tim (1998 ). The Important Things They Brought. New York City, NY: Broadway.

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