Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” Essay


There is a thin line between truth and fiction. This is particularly true in Tim O’Brien’s

THE THINGS THEY BROUGHT. Tim O’Brien skillfully handled words as he described the atrocities of war in this book.

Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” goes beyond the normal fare of war fiction. As a matter of fact it surpasses fiction in spite of the fact that the author labeled it as “a work of fiction” on the title page.

The book is an amalgamation of several categories– a narrative, an unique, and a collection of short stories.

O’Brien’s genius lies in the truth that he turns fiction into something real a lot so that the demarcation of fiction and reality in this story is barely visible. You can never tell when the truth ended and the creativity starts. There is a subtle intertwining of reality and fiction that hooks the reader into checking out further.

The story may be fiction however the feelings, tragedies and lives behind the story are real.

So real in reality, anybody can connect to them. “I want you to feel what I felt. I desire you to understand why story-truth is truer in some cases than happening-truth.” Chapter 18, pg. 179. This is a telling part of the story as Tim O’Brien relates how he wants the reality to come out not as the way other people seen it but the method he does. His own variation of the fact is what matters to him.

Really, realities might often be stranger than fiction.


The first-person narrator of this book is named after the author, Tim O’Brien. Tim is both a writer and fight veteran of the Vietnam War.

The war fiction is not about the typical war story where gory tales of hatcheted bodies and non-stop killings abound. Instead, one discovers a particular accessory to the characters as O’Brien skillfully narrates the emotional and mental impact of war on them. O’Brien shows the real nature of the soldiers of the Vietnam War not as brave soldiers however as boys and boys who are inexperienced and scared in an unusual land. Even O’Brien is not spared from worry of going to war.

“My conscience told me to run, however some unreasonable and powerful force was resisting, like a weight pressing me toward the war. What it came down to, stupidly, was a sense of shame.” Chapter 4, pg. 52. In this part of the story, Tim contemplated on how he was indecisive about being drafted for the war. The character Tim O’Brien responds to his draft notice by going to the Canadian border and invests six days in a separated lodge in the business of an old man named Elroy while he debates on whether he ought to evade the draft or accept it and go to war. In the end, he chose to go to war not so much he believes in it but more so because he does not wish to put his family to pity.

It is largely engaging, psychological and even funny. It offers a human face to the war rather than a mere narrative.

O’Brien explores “the important things they brought” both figuratively and literally through the periodic narrative of the lives, even death, of the soldiers consisting of the Alpha Business. O’Brien masterfully recounts the emotions going through a soldier during extraordinary moments of his life: his feelings when prepared, his regret when required to eliminate an enemy, his shock at seeing good friends or fellow soldiers eliminated in action and the gnawing feeling of homesickness.

The plot is simple however informed a number of times through various character’s perspective, making it appear more intricate than it seems.

The book has its light and amusing moments though as depicted in the story the Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong. O’Brien, the author, understands exactly the ideal order of stories to obtain the best impact, whether as a stand-alone story or to augment other stories. Tim has a method of relating stories that catches the reader by surprise like this one: “Speaking of Nerve was composed in 1975 at the recommendation of Norman Bowker, who three years later on hanged himself in the locker space of a YMCA in his home town in central Iowa.” (Page 155)

Love is among the inspiring aspect for Tim’s requirement to inform the story. “It had all the shadings and intricacies of mature adult love, and maybe more, since there were not yet words for it, and due to the fact that it was not yet repaired to comparisons or chronologies or the ways by which adults determine such things. I just loved her.” Chapter 22, pg. 228. Tim O’Brien, the character professes his love for a lady when they were little.

In the end, Tim admitted that his fondness for telling stories and why he needs to do it as he relates his life to the soldiers. “I’m skimming throughout the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt underneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and boil down thirty years later on, I recognize it is as Tim trying to conserve Timmy’s life with a story.”

Chapter 22, pg. 246. In this quote, Tim tells of his requirement to tell stories. He knows it can bring the dead loved ones back to life, as if they are still with us. The soldiers do this to protect them from painful memories of losing a pal or killing a person. Tim, the character, tells stories given that he was a child, when he lost the first woman he ever liked to brain growth. The stories might alter– characters, places, and occasions– however the writer keeps the memories alive.

These several narratives seem complex even sometimes confusing however O’Brien once again manages to pull this off completely.

“The Things They Brought” is a moving, dolorous tale of the males in Vietnam War and the psychological and psychological baggage they carried, which leave them scarred for life, due to the fact that of it.

Work Pointed out:

O’Brien, Tim. 29 Dec. 1998. “The Important Things They Brought”. Amazon. Accessed on 10, January 2007 http://www.amazon.com/Things-They-Carried-Tim-OBrien/dp/0767902890.

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