The Things They Carried is Tim O’Brien’s account of his participation in the Vietnam War, a war that he did not believe in but participated in to avoid a feeling of being guilty for the rest of his life. However, he did feel guilty after seeing gore, death and losing friends and thus reverted to writing in order to cope with those negative feelings. Even though the stories in this book seem real, they are a mixture of fiction and reality, and O’Brien makes himself a character in order to blur the line between the two realms. The chapters follow various soldiers in the platoon, sharing their inner and external struggles.
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The most interesting aspect of the story was O’Brien’s ability to link the past and present, fiction and nonfiction, and keep the audience attentive through gaps in details which increased curiosity. By labeling the work as a metafiction account, O’Brien rids himself of the burden of ethical writing, in which telling the truth is obligatory or the writer might face serious consequences by exposing real personalities. The reader knows that O’Brien indeed fought in the war, but there is no evidence that certifies the reality of the platoon members he described. There are even contradicting accounts in the characters’ lives, friendships, and their past. For instance, O’Brien recalls a past childhood love, but the reader cannot be sure whether Linda really had cancer or this is O’Brien’s device for gaining sympathy from the readers to ease his guilt.
By not giving factual information about the war, Tim O’Brien was successful in achieving two goals. Firstly, he took a stance against the political systems by almost making fun of the war completely ignoring the statistics. Secondly, he gave more importance to the characters, which provided a more subjective angle to the war story. By sharing the soldiers’ feelings, lives, and relationships, he reminded the public that because of a political judgment, millions of lives and dreams were destroyed. The war veterans could also relate to the stories and use them to cope with their own post traumatic stress experiences and guilt. O’Brien provided these men a place and a method to rid themselves of the things they have been forced to carry for so long.
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