“Often in a true war story there is not even a point, or else the point doesn’t hit you until 20 years later, in your sleep, and you wake up and shake your wife and start telling the story to her, except when you get to the end you’ve forgotten the point again.”
This passage, from a chapter called “How to Tell a True War Story,” gives succinct voice to some of the themes that preoccupy Tim O’Brien in “The Things They Carried.” Described simply as “a work of fiction,” the book is self-evidently autobiographical, a record of the memories of a writer in his 40s named Tim O’Brien, who two decades earlier was a soldier in Vietnam. His account of what happened — amid the hamlets and forests of the Batangan Peninsula and in other areas of operation — to him and the other members of his platoon is punctuated by rueful, sometimes anguished reflections on the elusiveness of meaning and the fraught relationship between truth and invention.
War — perhaps especially a war that, on the American side, began in deception and continued in confusion — has a way of blurring such distinctions. What happens in combat can be grotesque, absurd, senseless and transcendent, sometimes all at once. Capturing this in prose that upholds the post-Hemingway, Raymond Carver-era values of plainness and specificity is a challenge. “In any war story, but especially a true one,” O’Brien writes, “it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen.” As a result, the standard of truth is not epistemological, but visceral: “It comes down to gut instinct. A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe.”
“The Things They Carried” has lived in the bellies of American readers for more than two decades. O’Brien’s third book about Vietnam (following “If I Die in a Combat Zone” and “Going After Cacciato”), it sits on the narrow shelf of indispensable works by witnesses to and participants in the fighting, alongside Michael Herr’s “Dispatches,” Tobias Wolff’s “In Pharaoh’s Army” and James Webb’s “Fields of Fire.” While he conveys the details of grunt-level life and death — the weight of boots and weapons, the smell of mud and vegetation, the split-second swerves from tedium to terror — with startling immediacy, O’Brien is also haunted by the way experience is altered by the passage of time, by the gap that opens up between his young and middle-aged selves. Some of the most wrenching moments in the book find him back home, at 43, with a career and a family and a restless itch to make sense of his earlier transformation from a Minnesota college student with mildly antiwar politics to a member of the squad whose stories he will eventually borrow.
In 1990, when Houghton Mifflin published the book, Vietnam was still recent history, its individual and collective wounds far from healed. Just as the years between combat and publication affected O’Brien’s perception of events, so has an almost exactly equal span changed the character of the writing. “The Things They Carried” is now, like the war it depicts, an object of classroom study, kept relevant more by its craft than by the urgency of its subject matter. The raw, restless, anguished reckoning inscribed in its pages — the “gut hate” and comradely love that motivated the soldiers — has come to reflect conventional historical wisdom. Over time, America’s wars are written in shorthand: World War II is noble sacrifice; the Civil War, tragic fratricide; Vietnam, black humor and moral ambiguity.
Which is partly what makes Bryan Cranston a more than suitable choice to narrate the new audiobook edition of “The Things They Carried.” Thanks to his role on “Breaking Bad,” Cranston may be the most charismatic embodiment of moral ambiguity we currently possess. There was always something comforting as well as menacing in Walter White’s voice, and Cranston attacks O’Brien’s sober, sinewy prose with slightly scary authority.Continue reading the main story
The Things They Carried Essay: The Objectifying of Intangibles
Tim O’Brien’s 1990, The Things They Carried, is a collection of interconnected short stories that retell the adventures of the men of the Vietnam War’s Alpha Company. O’Brien’s experience as a foot soldier from 1968 to 1970 has given him an insiders perspective to the war and it is this perspective that the author shares through the characters he creates.
The author uses the objects the soldiers of the book carry to share this experience. “By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself” (1990, p. 158) writes O’Brian. Through the various objects the soldiers keep the author manifests the feelings of that make up the realities of war. “They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing — these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight” (O’Brien, 1990, pp. 21–22).
Each of the men had his own emotions to bare. The First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, the caring leader of the platoon carries photographs and letters written by the girl he had left back home. The heroic medic, Bob “Rat” Kiley has his comic books, candy, and bottle of brandy. Norman Bowker the quiet Iowa boy brings along his diary and a severed thumb taken from the body of a dead Viet Cong. Far from his Oklahoma home, the Native American, Kiowa holds tight to his bible and a hatchet given to him by his grandfather. And tied to his neck, the imposing machine gunner, Henry Dobbins styles a pair of pantyhose once worn by his girl.
To a man, O’Brien placed a collection of tangible items that in truth represented an emotional state, his emotional state, the emotional states of war. The author objectified these heavy emotions and distributed them to the men of Alpha Company to carry. All of this making up the “tangible weight” (O’Brien, 1990, p. 22) of war.
O’Brien, T. (1990). The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction (First Mariner books edition). Boston: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The Things They Carried essay sample was prepared by one of EssayShark newly registered writers to show his/her writing skills and professionalism. We’ve chosen this book as it is the one that is studied in various countries in the course of literature studies. This particular paper sample was aimed to describe the importace of personal belongings in the book. You can take advantage of the presented ideas, but don’t use any of them in personal purposes to avoid plagiarism.
Here is one more essay sample dedicated to this book.
Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried Essay: The Role of Women
The Things They Carried is a collection of small autobiographical stories by American writer Tim O’Brien. Although all the stories describe the author’s memories of the Vietnam War, they include female characters that play an important part in the book. Martha expresses love and danger; Mary Anne Bell loss of innocence, and Linda memory and death. Despite the fact that the leitmotif of the stories is war and death, female characters represent significant human values and emotions.
One of the most meaningful female characters is Martha, who appears in the first story The Things They Carried and symbolizes love and danger. A novel describes the story of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, who keeps memories of his friend Martha, whom he met in a college. He keeps all her letters and photographs and often thinks whether she dates with other guys. In fact, Jimmy understands that Martha does not love him and gives him false hope. One day the Alpha Company leaves for an operation, but even there the lieutenant cannot concentrate and thinks about his distant love. At this time, his friend Lavender gets injured, and after a while, he dies. This event makes Jimmy Cross to reflect on the unrequited love for Martha and to analyze the consequences of his obsessive thoughts about her. In this story, Martha symbolizes love, as the most valuable human feeling, and danger, since this attitude leads to tragic consequences. She expresses a magic love that resists the brutal reality of war. Ultimately, this unfulfilling dream of Martha, the hopes for a future life with her lead to the fact that the lieutenant is constantly distracted by thoughts about the object of his desire, even at the most critical moment. With this story, the author makes a statement that in the war the soldiers should focus on their actions, on what is happening at the current moment and not be distracted by the ghostly memories of the past, as this can cost a human life. Therefore, the character of Martha symbolizes a confrontation between love and danger, fantasy and the cruel reality of life.
Another major female character is Mary Anne Bell, who appears in the novel “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” and symbolizes the loss of innocence. This story describes the decision of soldier Mark Fossie to bring his girl to the Vietnam War. The author describes Mary Anne as a beautiful, curious girl in nice clothes. But with a stay in Vietnam, she transforms into a real warrior: she studies the local language, communicates with other soldiers and learns how to handle weapons. This story is a symbol of the transformation of all soldiers in the war, as they come there innocent and inexperienced guys and become entirely different, strong and tempered men. The author draws a parallel between how Mary Anne loses her femininity on her arrival in Vietnam, and soldiers lose their innocence in the war. It is also worth noting that Mary Anne is the only female character who directly participates in the novel’s events. Thus, Mary Anne Bell symbolizes the loss of innocence of all soldiers who go through the horrors of war.
The character of Linda appears in the last story “The Lives of the Dead” and signifies the death and human memory. The last story of the book depicts the writer’s memories of his first love. Being at war, he thinks of his classmate Linda, with whom he once went to the cinema. He was in love with her but later discovered that she had a severe, incurable illness. After a while, Linda died, and O’Brien remembers how he went to the funeral and saw her corpse. The author thinks of this event as the first experience of death in his life and analyzes it in the context that memory is capable of giving eternal life to people who once were dear to the heart. Dead people can revive in literature and Linda’s death gives a push to O’Brien to write stories about the experience of war. The author asserts the idea that memory makes a person immortal since it allows to perpetuate his traits into various types of art. In the last novel, O’Brien summarizes that all the stories presented in the book are not about the war, but about the comprehension of life through the death of other people. Therefore, Linda symbolizes death, eternal life and the function of memory in art.
In conclusion, The Things They Carried is an autobiographical collection of novels written by Tim O’Brien about the Vietnam War. Although the main characters of the stories are soldiers of the war, female characters also play a significant role in this book. Martha symbolizes the opposition of love and danger, fantasy and reality, Mary Anne Bell-loss of the innocence of soldiers after the war, and Linda-death and eternal life. Female characters express important life values and fill the book with different emotions.
Gratch, Ariel. “Teaching Identity Performance Through Tim O’Brien’s Things They Carried.” Communication Teacher, vol 29, no. 2, 2015, pp. 71-75. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/17404622.2014.1001418.
Milbrodt, Teresa. “War and Routine Violence in “The Things They Carried”.” Pleiades: Literature In Context, vol 36, no. 1, 2016, pp. 168-169. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/plc.2016.0068.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.