Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried: An eBook Review
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: A Review
Have you ever read a book that made you question your own reality? A book that challenged your perception of truth, fiction, and memory? A book that stayed with you long after you finished it?
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If not, then you should read The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. It is one of the most powerful and influential books about the Vietnam War ever written. It is also a masterpiece of literary art that transcends its historical context and speaks to universal human themes.
In this article, I will give you a brief overview of what the book is about, who the author is, and why the book is important. Then, I will summarize some of the main stories in the book and analyze their genre, style, themes, and messages. Finally, I will share my personal opinion on the book and recommend it to anyone who wants to read a profound and captivating work of literature.
What is the book about?
The Things They Carried is a collection of 22 interconnected stories that revolve around a platoon of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. The stories are narrated by a fictional version of Tim O'Brien, who is both a character in the stories and a writer who reflects on his experiences. The stories range from realistic accounts of combat missions and daily life in Vietnam to surreal episodes of fantasy and imagination. The stories also explore the lives of the soldiers before and after the war, as well as their relationships with their families, friends, lovers, and enemies.
Who is the author?
Tim O'Brien is an American writer who was born in 1946 in Minnesota. He graduated from Macalester College in 1968 with a degree in political science. He was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after graduation and served as a foot soldier in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He received a Purple Heart for his wounds in combat. After returning from Vietnam, he pursued a career as a writer and journalist. He has published several novels and memoirs about his experiences in Vietnam, such as If I Die in a Combat Zone, Going After Cacciato, and In the Lake of the Woods. He has also written novels on other topics, such as The Nuclear Age and July, July. He has won numerous awards and honors for his work, including the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award. He currently teaches creative writing at Texas State University.
Why is the book important?
The Things They Carried is widely regarded as one of the best books about the Vietnam War and one of the finest works of American literature in general. It has been praised by critics and readers alike for its artistic excellence, emotional depth, and moral insight. It has also been influential in shaping the public understanding and discourse of the Vietnam War and its legacy. The book has been adapted into various media forms, such as a play, a film, an opera, and a video game. It has also been taught in schools and colleges across the country and around the world. It has been selected by the National Endowment for the Arts as one of the books for its Big Read program, which aims to promote reading and civic engagement among Americans.
Summary of the book
The Things They Carried
The characters and their burdens
The first story in the book introduces the main characters and their physical and emotional burdens. The narrator lists the items that each soldier carries with him in Vietnam, such as weapons, ammunition, clothing, food, medicine, personal effects, and so on. He also reveals the psychological weight that each soldier bears, such as fear, guilt, grief, love, hate, and so on. Some of the characters are:
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross: The leader of the platoon who is obsessed with his unrequited love for a girl named Martha back home. He blames himself for the death of one of his men, Ted Lavender, who was shot while going to pee.
Mitchell Sanders: The RTO (radio telephone operator) who is loyal and wise. He tells stories to cope with the war and to convey its truth.
Kiowa: A Native American soldier who is religious and compassionate. He carries a Bible and a hatchet. He is O'Brien's closest friend in the war.
Norman Bowker: A quiet and gentle soldier who is haunted by his failure to save his friend Kiowa from drowning in a field of mud.
Rat Kiley: The medic who is skilled and humorous. He loves to exaggerate and embellish his stories. He later goes crazy and shoots himself in the foot to get out of the war.
Dave Jensen: A paranoid and hygienic soldier who breaks his own nose after a fistfight with another soldier, Lee Strunk.
Lee Strunk: A thief and a prankster who makes a pact with Jensen that if one of them gets seriously wounded, the other will kill him.
Henry Dobbins: A big and strong soldier who is gentle and superstitious. He carries extra rations and his girlfriend's pantyhose around his neck for good luck.
Curt Lemon: A reckless and childish soldier who dies after stepping on a booby-trapped artillery shell.
Ted Lavender: A scared and nervous soldier who takes tranquilizers to calm himself. He is killed by a sniper while urinating.
The stories and their themes
The first story also sets up some of the recurring stories and themes that run throughout the book. Some of them are:
The death of Ted Lavender: This event triggers Cross's decision to burn Martha's letters and photos and to become a more responsible leader. It also illustrates the randomness and senselessness of death in war.
The love for Martha: This motif represents Cross's longing for escape and normalcy. It also contrasts with the harsh reality of war and the lack of connection between soldiers and civilians.
The things they carried: This motif symbolizes the physical and emotional burdens that soldiers have to endure in war. It also shows how each soldier copes with his own situation differently.
The storytelling: This motif reflects O'Brien's attempt to make sense of his experiences in war and to communicate them to others. It also raises questions about the nature and purpose of storytelling, especially in relation to truth, fiction, memory, and morality.
On the Rainy River
The moral dilemma of going to war
The second story in the book is a flashback to O'Brien's life before he went to Vietnam. He tells how he received a draft notice in June 1968, when he was 21 years old and a recent college graduate. He was opposed to the war and considered himself a pacifist, but he was also afraid of disappointing his family and community. He felt trapped and confused by his situation. He decided to drive to the Canadian border and stay at a fishing lodge run by an old man named Elroy Berdahl. He hoped that Elroy would help him make a decision whether to flee to Canada or to go to war.
The role of the old man and the river
Elroy Berdahl is a mysterious and wise figure who acts as a mentor and a guide for O'Brien. He does not ask O'Brien any questions or give him any advice, but he provides him with shelter, food, money, and companionship. He also takes him on a fishing trip on the Rainy River, which separates Minnesota from Canada. On the boat, O'Brien sees the shore of Canada and feels tempted to jump off and swim across. He imagines how his life would be different if he escaped the war. However, he also feels ashamed and cowardly for abandoning his country and his duty. He cries and screams in agony, but he does not jump. He realizes that he is too afraid of the consequences of his actions, either way. He decides to go to war, not because he believes in it, but because he wants to avoid the stigma of being a traitor.
The Man I Killed
The guilt and horror of killing
The ninth story in the book is a vivid description of a young Vietnamese soldier whom O'Brien killed with a grenade near My Khe. O'Brien stares at the corpse and imagines what his life was like before he died. He invents details about his name, age, education, hobbies, family, personality, and dreams. He feels guilty and sorry for killing him, and wonders if he was really his enemy or just another human being like him.
The imagined life of the dead man
The Lives of the Dead
The memory and reality of death
The last story in the book is a flashback to O'Brien's childhood, when he was nine years old and in love with a girl named Linda. Linda was his first love and his first experience of death. She died of a brain tumor and was buried in a red sweater that O'Brien had given her. O'Brien tells how he used to visit her grave and talk to her in his dreams. He also tells how he witnessed the deaths of several soldiers in Vietnam, such as Kiowa, Curt Lemon, and Ted Lavender. He compares and contrasts the different ways of dealing with death in war and in peace.
The power of storytelling
O'Brien's main point in this story is that storytelling is a way of keeping the dead alive. He says that by telling stories about Linda and his comrades, he can make them breathe again and preserve their memories. He also says that storytelling is a way of coping with the horror and sadness of war. He says that by telling stories, he can find some meaning and beauty in the midst of chaos and violence. He says that storytelling is a form of magic that can make things happen and change things. He says that storytelling is what saved his life.
Analysis of the book
The genre and style of the book
Fiction or nonfiction?
One of the most intriguing and controversial aspects of The Things They Carried is its genre and style. The book blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, between reality and imagination, between truth and lies. O'Brien claims that the book is a work of fiction, but he also uses his own name and biography as the narrator and author. He also claims that some of the stories are based on his actual experiences in Vietnam, but he also admits that he made up or changed some details for artistic reasons. He also mixes factual elements, such as historical dates, places, and events, with fictional elements, such as invented characters, dialogue, and plot.
Metafiction and verisimilitude
O'Brien's use of fiction and nonfiction is not a simple trick or a gimmick. It is a deliberate and sophisticated technique that serves his artistic and moral purposes. O'Brien uses metafiction, which is a form of fiction that draws attention to its own fictional nature and challenges the conventional notions of realism and representation. O'Brien does this by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader directly, by commenting on his own writing process and choices, by contradicting himself or changing his story, by questioning the reliability and authority of his own narration, by exposing the gaps and inconsistencies in his memory, by playing with different perspectives and levels of narration, by experimenting with different forms and genres, such as memoir, war story, love story, ghost story, parable, etc.
The main themes and messages of the book
War and its effects on soldiers
One of the main themes of The Things They Carried is war and its effects on soldiers. O'Brien portrays the Vietnam War as a brutal and senseless conflict that causes immense physical and psychological damage to those who participate in it. He shows how the war strips the soldiers of their humanity and dignity, how it exposes them to constant danger and violence, how it forces them to kill or be killed, how it alienates them from their families and society, how it scars them with wounds and traumas that last for a lifetime. He also shows how the war shapes the soldiers' identities and personalities, how it tests their morals and values, how it challenges their beliefs and faith, how it influences their choices and actions, how it affects their relationships and emotions.
Truth and fiction in storytelling
Another main theme of The Things They Carried is truth and fiction in storytelling. O'Brien explores the complex and contradictory nature of truth and fiction, especially in relation to war and memory. He argues that truth is not a simple or objective fact, but a subjective and relative construct that depends on one's perspective, intention, and audience. He also argues that fiction is not a false or dishonest lie, but a creative and expressive way of communicating one's experiences, feelings, and meanings. He suggests that sometimes fiction can be more true than truth, and that sometimes truth can be more false than fiction. He demonstrates this by telling stories that are both true and false, both factual and fictional, both realistic and imaginative.
Courage and cowardice in moral choices
A third main theme of The Things They Carried is courage and cowardice in moral choices. O'Brien examines the ethical dilemmas and conflicts that soldiers face in war and in life. He questions the conventional definitions and expectations of courage and cowardice, heroism and villainy, right and wrong. He shows how these concepts are often ambiguous and relative, depending on the situation, the context, and the consequences. He shows how soldiers often act out of fear or shame rather than out of bravery or honor. He shows how soldiers often regret or rationalize their actions rather than accept or acknowledge them. He shows how soldiers often struggle to find a balance between their personal conscience and their social obligation.
What did I learn from the book?
The Things They Carried taught me a lot about the Vietnam War and its impact on American culture and history. It gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the experiences and perspectives of the soldiers who fought in it. It also taught me a lot about the art and craft of storytelling and its role in shaping our reality and identity. It gave me a new way of thinking about truth and fiction and their relationship to each other.
What did I like and dislike about the book?
I liked everything about the book. I liked its style, its structure, its language, its humor, its emotion, its symbolism, its imagery, its message. I liked how it engaged me as a reader, how it challenged me as a thinker, how it moved me as a human being. I liked how it made me laugh and cry, how it made me wonder and question, how it made me remember and imagine. I disliked nothing about the book.
Who would I recommend the book to?
I would recommend the book to anyone who loves reading great literature. I would also recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Vietnam War or about war in general. I would also recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the power and beauty of storytelling or in the nature and meaning of truth or fiction.
FAQs Q: Is The Things They Carried a true story? A: The book is a work of fiction, but it is based on some of O'Brien's actual experiences in Vietnam. However, he also changed or invented some details for artistic reasons. Q: How many stories are there in The Things They Carried? A: There are 22 stories in the book. Q: Who is Tim O'Brien? A: Tim O'Brien is an American writer who served as a soldier in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He is also the narrator and author of The Things They Carried. Q: What is the main message of The Things They Carried? A: The book has many messages, but one of them is that storytelling is a way of coping with the horror and sadness of war and of keeping the dead alive. Q: When was The Things They Carried published? A: The book was published in 1990. 71b2f0854b