Fact Verses Fiction in O'Brien's The Things They Carried Essay

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Fact Verses Fiction in O'Brien's The Things They Carried "The difference between fairy tales and war stories is that fairy tales begin with 'Once upon a time,' while war stories begin with 'Shit, I was there!'" (Lomperis 41). How does one tell a good war story? Is it important to be accurate to the events that took place? Does the reader need to trust the narrator? In The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien examines what it takes to tell a good war story. He uses his own experiences in Vietnam in conjunction with his imagination to weave together a series of short stories into a novel. First, the reader must understand just what makes a good "war story". The protagonist of the novel, Tim O'Brien, gives us his…show more content…
In the chapter "Speaking of Courage" Norman Bowker claims that he is responsible for his friend's death. However, in the chapter "In the Field" O'Brien places the blame on an unnamed young soldier who started the enemy attack by turning on his flashlight. Which story is true? Does it matter what is true? According to Jim Neilson, the story of Kiowa's death "evokes the notion that for the U.S. Vietnam was a quagmire; his drowning functions almost emblematically to suggest America's deepening entanglement in southeast Asia" (193). Whatever the meaning behind Kiowa's story, it certainly fits the requirements for a good war story: there is nothing redeemable in it. Maria Bonn sees the three stories about Kiowa's death ("Speaking of Courage," "Notes," and "In the Field") as exemplifying "O'Brien's relentless investigation of how to tell a true war story" (paragraph 39). When you look at all three of these chapters together you can see the progression from what is imagined to what is true or is it the other way around? With Tim O'Brien, it is never clear. The chapter "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" is another questionable narrative. The reader learns in the first paragraph that the narrator, Rat Kiley, is not known for his accurate story telling ability. "Rat had a reputation for exaggeration and overstatement, a compulsion to rev up the facts" (O'Brien 89). The protagonist, Tim

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