It is one of the best paradoxes in literature: a fabricated story is more accurate than an accurate story. Tim O’Brien sets out to prove this concept in The Things They Carried. This is a book of short stories, a few of his individual war tales, some of his platoon-mates’ rhetoric, and some from when he was not in combat. These selections all include a degree of unpredictability, as the reader can never make certain if the narrator, Tim O’Brien, is the exact same person as the author, Tim O’Brien. One particular story, “How to Inform a Real War Story,” is O’Brien’s attempt to explain to the reader how truths might not always make a story accurate. The idea behind it is that Vietnam is a place where the line between reality and creativity is blurred. A soldier experiences things impossible to understand and, when that soldier returns house, the stories are challenging to recall. It is from here that the guys start to substitute missing out on information and end up being lax towards the realities. Yet, it is no matter, due to the fact that as any Vietnam veteran would vouch, information are just present to get the listener to take note of the underlying message. As exemplified by the stories within “How to Tell a Real War Story,” Tim O’Brien might not have actually as efficiently written his book as pure nonfiction.
Mitchell Sanders’ story about the men on listening patrol shows that Vietnam was a location where the only certainty was uncertainty, making nonfiction writing difficult. Sanders, who was telling the story to O’Brien, discusses the irregularity of the land: “Like you do not even have a body. Seriously spooky. You simply go with the vapors-the fog sort of takes you in … And the sounds man … You hear things no one should ever hear” (O’Brien 72). It is made clear a number of times throughout the story that Vietnam was no common place. Soldiers would experience many inexplicable things, such as odd sounds, visual techniques, and jumbled memories. This truth represent lots of missing information in the veterans’ narrative, increases uncertainty in the reader, and provides O’Brien vindication for not utilizing nonfiction. After the squadron members on patrol hear activity that defies reality, they have to report back to their captain regarding what occurred. Sanders describes, “They simply look at him for a while, sort of amusing like, sort of amazed, and the whole war is right there because gaze. It states everything you can’t ever state … since particular stories you do not ever inform” (O’Brien 75-76). That quote and the story of the men who went out on listening patrol summarize how surreal the experience of Vietnam was for many soldiers. Since the only certainty was unpredictability, the soldiers in Sanders’ story were unable to comprehend what was going on and would have spotty memories of occasions when they returned house. This truth represent disparities in O’Brien’s stories and enables him to compose his book as fiction. Steve Kaplan explains what determined O’Brien’s writing style: “… the really act of writing fiction about the war, of informing war stories, as he practices it in The Important Things They Brought, is identified by the nature of the Vietnam War … where ‘the only certainty is frustrating obscurity’ (88 )” (Kaplan). Vietnam was a place where the soldiers needed to accept that unpredictability (in experience and recollection) would be ever-present. Writing about the war proves to be very difficult due to the fact that there is a considerable gray location surrounding information of specific occasions. This, the nature of the war, accounts for O’Brien composing fiction rather of nonfiction.
O’Brien’s recollection of the death of Curt Lemon conveys how keeping the details constant and utilizing nonfiction in war stories is unreasonable. O’Brien consistently rearranges his world, allegedly attempting to accomplish the complete fact about the events he describes, when in truth he understands more than anyone that a complete reality is far out of reach (Kaplan). Like O’Brien, soldiers who try to tell the war story more than once will usually alter some small details, attempting to get it ideal. “Just right” could suggest as real to the event as possible, or making the message as comprehensible as possible. In this scenario, reality and fiction can correspond in a way beneficial to O’Brien as an author. Kaplan explains how this technique is applied specifically to Curt Lemon: “The only thing real or specific about the story, nevertheless, is that it is being constructed and then deconstructed and then reconstructed right in front of us. The reader is given 6 different versions of the death of Curt Lemon” (Kaplan). O’Brien remembers Lemon’s death in effective detail, other than that those information often change. In spite of the reader likely being aware of this sense of alteration, it hardly matters, since the images is regularly strong. The young man being blown in the air near a tranquil tree under the bright sunshine in an “almost lovely” way is very powerful, and matters more than having every particular aspect identical whenever the story is told (O’Brien 70). Therefore, O’Brien’s fiction is just as significant as a nonfiction story would be and takes apart the need for a nonfictional narrative completely. O’Brien even confesses that his recollection of the death can be erratic: “In any war story … it’s difficult to separate what happened from what appeared to happen … The angles of vision are skewed … When a person dies like Curt Lemon … the photos get jumbled; you tend to miss out on a lot” (O’Brien 71). This mindset describes why O’Brien varies the details slightly throughout the chapter. Although his death is explained in sluggish movement, Lemon died very rapidly, so O’Brien is difficult pushed to recall exactly what occurred. In addition, the incident was mentally ravaging for O’Brien. So, all these variables represent an inconsistent story. The moving information imply that O’Brien can adjusting his story for the much better, abandoning nonfiction and using fiction to correctly get at the full fact.
Finally, the story of Kiowa butchering the infant buffalo proves that the “reality” of a story is more crucial than guaranteed truths, validating O’Brien’s desertion of nonfiction. The “truth” here includes the feelings that the narrator was feeling or a lesson that the narrator is attempting to teach the reader. The list below passage features O’Brien reflecting on how a typical individual perceives his stories: “The poor baby buffalo, it made her sad … the mountains and the river and specifically that poor dumb baby buffalo. None of it occurred” (O’Brien 84-85). The story about the buffalo might be absolutely made up, but it’s the image that matters. A photo of Rat Kiley torturing an unprotected child animal since of the grief he feels towards his dead war friend is extensive. It is a haunting story, totally credible in the context of the Vietnam War, so that it doesn’t matter if it holds true or not. With this quote, O’Brien describes the significance of the chapter, “How to Inform a Real War Story”: “You can inform a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody narrates, let’s state, and later on you ask, ‘Is it true?’ And if the response matters, you have actually got your answers” (O’Brien 83). When it comes to the buffalo story, the answer doesn’t matter, due to the fact that based on O’Brien’s definition of a true war story, it is one hundred percent true. As formerly suggested, the stunning image still resonates whether the atrocity took place at all. The book is fiction, however the reader has no other way of finding out if any word has a lick of fact to it. Eventually, it does not matter.
No matter any inconsistencies, O’Brien gets to the truth of his stories by using fiction. In Sanders’ story about the guys on listening patrol, Vietnam defies truth and the soldiers can never be sure of their memories. In telling the death of Curt Lemon, O’Brien frequently alters his story, a technique which is acceptable due to the fact that it is in the pursuit of getting the complete fact. In the story of Kiowa eliminating the child buffalo, O’Brien shows that it does not matter if a story even took place at all. The message and feelings are what matter. A young soldier losing his buddy in the mud, a college student’s inner turmoil about going to fight, a female lured by a war she was never ever supposed to be in, and a young boy coping with a loss he can never ever comprehend: these fictitious situations and messages are absolutely believable and stick with the reader long after the book is closed. As a reader attempts to navigate through O’Brien’s maze of tales, that reader may think that it’s an embarassment that the war’s genuine fact gets lost, but there once again lies the paradox. Perhaps there was never ever a genuine truth to Vietnam, only the stories the soldiers can piece together.