Exploring the Complex Narratives of War in ‘The Things they Carried’

Exclusively available on PapersOwl
Updated: Sep 07, 2023
Cite this
Date added
Pages:  4
Words:  1228
Order Original Essay

How it works

The Things They Carried is a collection of Vietnam War stories written by Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam Veteran. The book seemed to have a 100% authentic aspect, that is until reading Good Form. The Man I killed and Ambush reveal a gory recount of killing a young man in My Khe while Good Form reveals the truth about the authenticity of the recollections. Each of these stories is interrelated in what they describe, however they each offer a unique perspective of one event that took place.

Need a custom essay on the same topic?
Give us your paper requirements, choose a writer and we’ll deliver the highest-quality essay!
Order now

The concise chapter, Good Form, discussed the level of legitimacy that the stories offer and how and why Tim O’Brien wrote the book in the way he did. The book was written as a culmination of both factual based and fabricated stories. Until the moment he said this in “Good Form,” a reader would believe every word that was said because O’Brien doesn’t distinguish truth from untruth when describing specific events. Upon delving deeper into the short chapter, it is clear that O’Brien does this in order to capture the emotions that a soldier felt during the time of, in this particular case, a killing rather than the actual accuracy of the event itself. He wishes to elicit the same emotions from the readers and is willing to do that by any means possible– even if it means altering the truth. This chapter refers back to a previous one, The Man I Killed and specifically describes the credibility of the particular description of the murder of a man in My Khe. He longs to emotionally connect and relate with each reader and describe the soldiers’ experiences through an emotion lens, rather than strictly a fact-based one. He wants us to sympathize and emphasize with each character’s experiences. He is willing to lose the authenticity of his book as he bends the truths in order to ultimately achieve the true purpose of his writing it. The chapter itself was fact-based and emotionally distant and had a structured and serious tone. This chapter was added to the book because it is Tim O’Brien telling the truth about the legitimacy in the stories and it struck me because it didn’t feel necessary to give the disclaimer.

The Man I killed is one of the first chapters in the book. It discusses O’Brien’s killing a man with a grenade in My Khe. There is clear residual guilt and empathy for the man and O’Brien does all in his power to humanize his victim in the story. He describes the physical attributes of his dead body with gory details saying that his jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were missing, his one of his eyes was “star-shaped,” his neck was open to the spinal cord and the blood there was thick and shiny. This gruesome description gave the chapter a serious, dark, and uneasy tone. He does this to further the empathy that it would make a reader feel and emotionally connect them, even if it inflicts negative emotion. He continues by imagining the man’s whole life story. He says that he was born in 1946 in My Khe, his parents were farmers, and that he wasn’t a communist, just a man fighting in the battle for independence. He goes on to explain what kind of man he was and what his likes and dislikes were. Discussing the life of the man, humanizing and individualizing this dead body, allows the reader to experience what it felt like to take a life in war. That although it may be easy to forget, every man killed is a man with a life story, a family, hopes and aspirations. Although this was not a truthful event, the feelings of guilt, frustration, and sadness were not fabricated at all. The real truth, however, was: O’Brien saw this man being killed, but he wasn’t the one to commit the act. Upon reading “Good Form,” O’Brien goes over the killing and exactly how much of it was fabricated. He tells us that he, in fact, actually never killed a man in My Khe, it was all made up. However, the feelings that he describes were feelings that soldiers who did kill encountered, so it doesn’t actually matter whether or not this specific event occurred. The purpose of writing this story was to get readers to feel the pain of a soldier in Vietnam and he was most definitely successful. He makes us gain emotional and empathic connections to the men that they killed and it is clear that along with the tangible items, the things that these men truly carried, was the burden of having the blood of another man on their hands.

Ambush, the chapter that follows The Man I killed, talks about O’Brien’s first experience killing a man”the same one as discussed in the previous chapter. Like The Man I killed, it has a dark and uneasy tone but is spoken about in a reflective way, like the pain is there, but it is deeper now as 20 years have passed. He opens up, 20 years following Vietnam, discussing how his daughter, only 5 years old at the time, asked if he had ever killed anyone in war and that he had to have because he was writing war stories. He responds by saying no but then tells the reader that she was right when she said that this is why he was writing these stories: to cope with the reality that he has blood on his hands. He goes on to explain his first war killing. We are back in wartime. It was a foggy night and O’Brien was lost. He has 3 grenades ready for quick detonation and sat there waiting. Dawn came and a young man, described to be a short-slender man in his twenties began to emerge from the fog. He describes what happened next as”automatic.” He threw the grenade at the young man before even processing that he was going to. The author tells us that the man almost certainly would’ve done no harm to him, so again, he has to “carry” this weight on his shoulders forever. Having read Good Form, we know that this detailed description is all untruth. The guilt and remorse that he feels, however, is expanded upon in this chapter. He explains that now, 20 years later, the guilt and unease related to it still comes and goes. He makes the reader feel the unease, constant questioning of his actions, and guilt that he does.

In the first story, The Things They Carried, author Tim O’Brien discussed the physical things that soldiers in Vietnam carried; things like M&Ms and compasses. Throughout the stories though, specifically upon delving deeper into Good Form, The Man I killed, and Ambush, it became increasingly clear that these tangible items were far from being the most these men carried. The guilt, the questioning, and the burden of taking lives and being in war at all is an emotion that couldn’t be described had O’Brien simply told a structured story of his experience. He fabricated stories, bent the truth, and in turn, lost the authenticity of the stories while maintaining the accuracy in the feelings he, or any other veteran, had felt during their service. All three stories offered a unique perspective into the killing and were all essential in shaping my knowledge on the event.

The deadline is too short to read someone else's essay
Hire a verified expert to write you a 100% Plagiarism-Free paper

Cite this page

Exploring the Complex Narratives of War in 'The Things They Carried'. (2019, Apr 17). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/exploring-the-complex-narratives-of-war-in-the-things-they-carried/