O'Brien's Things They Carried Essay: Truth, Fiction, and Human Emotion

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The Things They Carried: Truth, Fiction, and Human Emotion

There are many levels of truth in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. This novel deals with story-telling as an act of communication and therapy, rather than a mere recital of fact. In the telling of war stories, and instruction in their telling, O'Brien shows that truth is unimportant in communicating human emotion through stories.

O'Brien's writing style is so vivid, the reader frequently finds himself accepting the events and details of this novel as absolute fact. To contrast truth and fiction, the author inserts reminders that the stories are not fact, but are mere representations of human emotion incommunicable as fact.

O'Brien's most direct
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This method of the author editorializing his own work brings an unquestionably real element into the fiction.

O'Brien first uses this method with the first and second stories, The Things They Carried and Love. In Love, O'Brien brings the reader outside of the war, "many years after," and talks with Jimmy Cross, the Lieutenant protagonist in The Things They Carried. Like Norman Bowker from Good Form, Jimmy Cross asks Tim O'Brien (using his real name to further push the truth) to write a story about him. Again, as in Good Form, O'Brien lies to his friend. As Bowker requests his real name not be used, Cross says at the end of Love, "And do me a favor. Don't mention anything about-," and O'Brien replies, "No, I won't." O'Brien tells Cross he won't mention his sense of failure and guilt for the death of Ted Lavender, but he knows that this is the one part of the story which must be told. Even though Cross is not directly responsible for Lavender's death, he feels like he is. O'Brien realizes that giving Cross's guilt truth in the story communicates more precisely Cross's real human emotion.

O'Brien gives his characters lives outside the story and dedicates his fiction to their memory. In On the Rainy River, for example, O'Brien writes that he never really thanked the old man

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