A Break from the Past: A Study of How The Things They Carried Break Ranks with Other Memoir Genres

The concern of whether Tim O’Brien’s “The important things They Brought” complies with the conventions of the narrative category is a complex matter quite simply due to the fact that it is an unique that intentionally blurs the lines of truth and fiction. The stories are based upon genuine events, however conceal behind the facade of pieces of fiction, which causes a phenomenon referred to as story-telling realities. This makes the novel seem a memoir. Tim O’Brien paradoxically challenges both the conventions of a memoir as much as he does those of an unique, however in this essay, the main focus will be on how he challenges features normal of the memoir genre.

The episodes, categorised as an unique in the paperback edition, chronicle the experiences of a squadron in Vietnam, sharing their feelings, their sometimes black humour, and their imperfections. It is structured as a series of narratives sprinkled together with the same characters, each story developing each soldier’s experiences. O’Brien’s stories go back and forth in time, developing a memoir-like feeling. This is also a tool O’Brien makes use of to get to various kinds of fact by providing experiences in various ways. Such an informal structure is often widespread in memoirs.

The arguably most notable convention of a memoir– informing the story from the first individual– can be discovered throughout “The Things They Carried”. For instance, “On the Rainy River”, a short story about Tim O’Brien going to Canada with the intention of dodging the draft, is informed in the first individual from a character called after the author. This perpetuates the blurring of fiction and reality since it gives the text an autobiographical function, yet the story is paradoxically classified as fictitious from the beginning. By fictionalising the occasions described in the novel, O’Brien gave himself totally free reign to explore his sensations and personal realities instead of what really took place– he is able to compare what actually occurred during the Vietnam War from what appeared to take place from his own point of view.

Regardless of the reality that the author and the narrator seem comparable, the storyteller incessantly looks for to call into question the truthfulness of the stories he told both from his memory and from rumours. For instance, in “The Male I Eliminated”, the character O’Brien begins thinking of a life strangely comparable to his own for the solider he killed: “the young man would not have actually wanted to be a soldier and in his heart would have feared carrying out terribly in fight” (p. 133). This mission for reality on his part leads the readers to follow a similar course. For instance, when O’Brien describes the shock and shock he felt after he eliminated another soldier, he leads the readers to think him. However, he then casts doubt on the soldier’s mere presence, which once again looks for to undermine the accuracy of the stories. The motivation behind such suspect contradictions is to stress the insignificance of factual truth, and to highlight what, to O’Brien, is actually important: the act of storytelling.

Another typical feature of memoirs is that readers often aren’t told about how the author felt about whatever occasion took place. Rather, they are shown through both the discussion and the actions of the characters. This convention prevails in “The Things They Carried”, evidenced in the story “Design” as Azar “mocked the lady’s dancing. He did funny dives and spins. He put the palms of his hands versus his ears and danced sideways for a while, and then in reverse, and after that did a sensual thing with his hips” (p. 133), which recommends much about the method the soldiers are feeling as an outcome of the challenges of a war. O’Brien communicates the impression that the only method some soldiers can cope is by what could be viewed as a crude, humoristic approach to the situations. He essentially debases the circumstance by transforming Azar into the archetypical “grunt.” Nevertheless, he also presents a various image. Henry Dobbins, another solider, is revealed to feel bitter Azar’s disrespect, and the story is told with this in mind. This is seen when Dobbins “took Azar from behind and lifted him up high and brought him over to a deep well and asked if he wished to be discarded in” (p. 136), to which Azar stated no, which prompted the response: “Then dance right” (p. 136) from Dobbins.

The crux of the book is essentially how O’Brien challenges the truth that the majority of people dismiss stories as fiction when they could simply as easily be true by experimenting with the memoir category. He intends for his novel to be checked out as a narrative, although it isn’t one. He uses particular conventions from the memoir category to challenge their very essence. The point isn’t to narrate that actually occurred, it has to do with telling a story that the storyteller feels is accurate from the totality of his experiences. Throughout the entire novel, the overarching style– more so than the Vietnam War– is actually storytelling as an act in itself, which is communicated to be a platform that allows for the expression of one’s memory in addition to a form of catharsis of the past. O’Brien even reflects on this, “I’m forty-three years of ages, and an author now […] I’m skimming across the surface area of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt underneath the blades, […] and when I take a leap […] and come down thirty years later on, I understand it is as Tim attempting to conserve Timmy’s life with a story” (p. 236). The veracity behind the stories is secondary to the impact of the real subject on the readers. To O’Brien, if a story “can evoke emotions in you”, it ought to be thought about as a “type of reality”.

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