In “The Man I Killed,” O'Brien revises the story of his mental breakdown after killing an enemy soldier—only to reveal that his revised version is also invented. “Speaking of Courage” chronicles the grief and alienation of Vietnam veteran Norman Bowker, who is unable to articulate his shame over his failure to save his friend from death in combat after he returns home to Iowa.
In “The Man I Killed,” O'Brien revises the story of his mental breakdown after killing an enemy soldier—only to reveal that his revised version is also invented. “Speaking of Courage” chronicles the grief and alienation of Vietnam veteran Norman Bowker, who is unable to articulate his shame over his failure to save his friend from death in combat after he returns home to Iowa.Tags: Business Plan Project ReportSecret Life Of Bees EssayCase Studies In Management AccountingLaw School Essay Review ServiceCollege Essay ServiceThe Mena Journal Of Business Case StudiesProper Form For Resume Cover LetterCurricular Activities EssayProblem Solving Workplace
The Things They Carried Tim O'Brien (Full name William Timothy O'Brien) American novelist, short-story writer, memoirist, and journalist.
The following entry presents criticism on O'Brien's short-story collection The Things They Carried (1990) from 1990 through 2002.
When the soldier tries to apply a moral and revises the story, the narrator recognizes the inherent truth of the first version.
For him, a true story is one that isn't based on what actually happened, but the different ways in which the traumatic experience is rewritten and retold.
The interplay between memory and imagination makes it difficult for the reader to distinguish the truthful elements of the story.
The O'Brien narrator often recalls and elaborates on the scenes in various stories; in other stories, he is not identified as the narrator until after the narrative is complete.Critics note that traumatic experiences are endlessly filtered and recirculated in the stories.In another section of “How to Tell a True War Story,” Rat Kiley cruelly kills a baby water buffalo for no reason—which upsets a listener at one of O'Brien's book readings years later.Major Themes Critics assert that the central theme of The Things They Carried is the relationship of storytelling to truth.In this vein, they often discuss O'Brien's interest in transcending reality to represent the truths of his traumatic Vietnam War experience as a defining characteristic of the book.O'Brien then retells the story, over and over, with each version providing a new perspective on Kiley's own emotional trauma from earlier combat experiences and the murder of the buffalo.Eventually he reveals that it all was a fictional exercise meant to express trauma and its consequences without merely utilizing his own personal experiences.In fact, the interweaving of fact and fiction in The Things They Carried has generated much commentary, particularly about the ambiguous nature of his narratives and the metafictional quality of his storytelling techniques.In 1991 the volume was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award.Commentators note that for O'Brien, the question of authenticity and verisimilitude when relating war experiences is ambiguous; instead, a story's authenticity is often based on its effect on the reader.As O'Brien states, a story is truthful if it “makes the stomach believe.” Reviewers assert that the stories address the effects of combat trauma and the struggle for redemption and recovery.