The Things They Carried By Tim O'Brien Summary and Analysis Good Form

Summary

O'Brien explains that he is a writer now and was once a soldier, but that most of the other stories comprising his "memoir" are invented and that he never killed the Viet Cong soldier. He explains that his style of stories that seem to be truthful but are fiction demonstrate that "story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth." O'Brien, as an author, explains that stories can be used to tell the truth or a version of it, like when Kathleen asks O'Brien if he has ever killed a man and he says yes.

Analysis

Author Tim O'Brien reminds his readers that the protagonist of the novel is a writer, an individual whose job it is to meld memory and imagination into a new product for others to derive meaning from. O'Brien has melded these elements and created an innovative form for the novel that combines his own experiences — he is a Vietnam veteran — and his ability as a fiction writer to animate fragments of memory through embellishment and invention. In other words, O'Brien uses the "real" as a point of departure for his storytelling because he believes that imagined accounts could have legitimate kernels of truth.

As in "How to Tell a True War Story," O'Brien reprises differentiating between, as "O'Brien" puts it, "story-truth" and "happening truth." "O'Brien" bluntly states his objective as an author: "I want you to feel what I felt," which underpins and justifies "O'Brien's" major admission in the chapter: "I did not kill him."

Finally, "O'Brien" comments on the temporal aspect of stories, how — even if the details are fabricated — they "make things present." Included in those "things" are "things ["O'Brien"] never looked at." Just as "O'Brien" looked away from the dead Vietnamese man in "The Lives of the Dead" when he was "actually" in Vietnam, "actually" right in front of the corpse, only in his mind — at the intersection where the past meets the present — does he make sense of it. This explains the post-modern paradox that closes the chapter: O'Brien's assertion that he will be able to answer "yes" if his daughter asks whether he has ever killed a man and to answer honestly "of course not." This recalls the scene in "Ambush" when O'Brien hopes that his daughter will one day, as an adult, ask again about his involvement in the war. This also recalls Kathleen's question at the close of "Field Trip" when she asks whether the Vietnamese farmers are still angry. Meaning, then, O'Brien suggests, shifts with time, and the main variable is when the past melds with the present in the mind of the storyteller. O'Brien can answer "yes" or "of course not" because, as the novel demonstrates, O'Brien has constructed and deconstructed these scenarios and internalized their meanings.

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