Aaron - The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien
Tim O'Brien in Vietnam

The Author of The Things They Carried is Vietnam war veteran Tim O'Brien. Tim O'Brien is a small town Minnesotan who group up in Worthington. He studied at Macalester College, gaining a bachelors degree in political science, and also a draft notice. Although deeply against the war, O'Brien reported for service and was assigned to the 46th Infantry Division as a foot soldier. He served from 1969-70. After Vietnam, he became a graduate student at Harvard University. When offered a job at the Washington Post, O'Brien left Harvard to become a newspaper reporter. His career as a reporter gave way to his fictional writing. Tim O'Brien's experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, and growing up in rural Minnesota are the basis of his literary works. They include:

  • If I Die in a Combat Zone
  • Northern Lights
  • Going After Cacciato
  • The Nuclear Age
  • The Things They Carried
  • In the Lake of the Woods
  • Tomcat in Love

Tim O'Brien now teaches in the Creating Writing Program at Southwest Texas State University (Tim O'Brien).

Plot Synopsis
The Things They Carried is a book of short stories about soldier Tim O'Brien, the main character, who is a fictional character created by author Tim O'Brien. When Tim O'Brien first receives his draft notice in the book, he acts as if his life has been ru
Book Cover
Book Cover
ined. A college student with a lot of potential ahead of him, Tim heads for the Canadian border. Only a few miles from the Canadian border, Tim stops at a cabin resort, and stays there for a week or two. While staying at the cabin, he meets an old man, who seems to understand. Although the old man never says anything about the war, Tim feels like the man had been giving him advice on what to do the entire time. After thinking it over, Tim O'Brien decides that it is not worth destroying his name, and betraying his country, and returns to his hometown, where he begins his service. Tim O'Brien explains his decision "I passed through towns with familiar names, through the pine forests and down to the prairie, and then to Vietnam, where I was a soldier, and then home again. I survived, but it's not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war" (O'Brien 61). This chapter has a big affect on the book because it shows the situation that Tim is in, and his morals in life. It is important in character development. When Tim is finally enlisted as a soldier, he realizes what the war is about. Not only himself but others as well. The stories are written about the men of Alpha Company, in particular Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa. They carried guns, helmets, flak jackets, canteens, love letters, knifes, dope, grenades, bibles, and each other. But they also carried fear, hate, blame, love, and guilt—the heaviest burdens of them all. The book describes their extreme struggles from different missions of village to village. They watch as their friends are killed, and wonder why they themselves are alive. Through out the entire book, it describes how every soldier is changed by the war. Mark Fossie decides that he is going to ship his girlfriend over to the base. When she gets there, Fossie is destroyed as he watches her lose her innocence. His girlfriend begins to enjoy the combat, and the thrill of the jungle. He is torn by this and sends her home. O'Brien becomes haunted when he kills a Viet Cong soldier on an open path, a man which he imagines being a nice, young student just like himself. One of Tim O'Brien's platoon members, Norman Bowker, fails to make the transition from a soldier to a regular citizen, as the book describes him driving around his hometown lake all day, not knowing what to do. His life had been tainted by the war, after he was unable to save one of his fellow soldiers from dying. Norman Bowker struggles with this transition until the very end. And the characters that made it through the war, they carried heavy memories of all that had happened throughout the war.

"War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun . War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead" (O'Brien 80).

What Worked?
Its easy realize that author Tim O'Brien understands that the war is now reduced to stories. He explains this clearly in his book. He also realizes that stories put a spin on the war, make it seem less painful, less real. Stories get at the truth of war by avoiding generalizations, stretching the boundaries of actual events. Story-truth can sometimes be more real than truth of things that has happened, you can have a true story that never happened. A true story gives you that feelings und makes the stomach believe. The detail of the war may be embellished, but the moral is still there.
external image vietnam-soldiers-4.gif
"Here is the happening-truth. I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I'm left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief" (O'Brien 180).

"Here is the story-truth. He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe. His jaw was in his throat. Hi one eye was shut, the other eye was a star-shaped hole. I killed him" (O'Brien 180).

This is how Tim O'Brien's novel is so great. Tim O'Brien does an increasingly stunning job writing The Things They Carried. Having experienced the Vietnam war first hand, along with having the ability to write, makes for an intense novel. What works for this book that makes it stick out more than other war books, is the separating of the book into short stories. Although the book contains one set of characters and plot, the book jumps back and forth between different incidents that contributes for a very interesting book that never gets boring. What works very well in this story are the morals that are presented. The description of the emotion and feelings that went along with the war, truly have an impact on the greatness of this novel. New York Times defines The Things They Carried as "A Marvel of storytelling... [The Things They Carried] matters not only to the reader interested in Vietnam but to anyone interested in the craft of writing as well." What also works well in Tim O'Brien's masterpiece is that the language used is simple, it is easy to understand, and there are no tricks or twists. The book is filled with tons of description that also make the book very interesting. The distinction between each story and each moral that comes with each story is miraculous.

"And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It's about sunlight. It's about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow. It's about sisters who never write back and people who never listen" (O'Brien 85).

What didn't Work?

The majority of The Things They Carried is extremely effective. Even though the book is very admirable, some of the parts get lengthy. The descriptions that exist in the book are extraordinary, but after a while the wording becomes too repetitive, and drawn-out.
Literary Information
Author Tim O'Brien
Author Tim O'Brien

"On occasions the war was like a Ping-Pong ball. You could put a fancy spin on it, you could make it dance" (O'Brien 32).

The Things They Carried is a book of fiction, written by Tim O'Brien. Even though the stories are based on true events and actual incidents, all names, characters , and places are imaginary. The book is written in first person from the view of Tim O'Brien. The story takes place in Vietnam from 1969-1970. Three are also sections in the book that include times before Tim O'Brien's roll in the war as well as after. At first glance, most people would think that this story is an autobiography about Tim O'Brien's life as a soldier, but it is really important to understand that the main character in the story, Tim O'Brien, is a fictional character and only a version of himself. The Things They Carried falls under the category of war, and war fiction. When talking about style, and styles of literature, this novel would fall under the category of realism, because the book describes the realities of war.

Consider the Following:
This book was placed on the Outstanding Books for the College Bound, because it is a book that isn't extremely hard to understand, and is perfect for young adults whose reading skills are improving, and those who wish to become prepared for college. It is also a life changing book that can have an affect on its readers. Meanwhile, this fiction piece is also interesting and full of emotion and tragedy.

The Things They Carried is a book that everyone should experience. It is a book that will change the outlook of the Vietnam war, and provides necessary information that allows the reader to understand the conditions and experiences of the Vietnam war. Not only is this book recommended because of its amazing Vietnam context, but because Tim O'Brien's writing is fantastic and for even those not interested in Vietnam, the writing is spectacular and unique. No where else will you find the literature as amazing as it is in The Things They Carried. Written by the same author of Going After Cacciato, a novel that has won the National Book Award for Fiction, this novel is definitely a book that will be hard to put down.

The Things They Carried is one of those books where you finish reading it and you lay back and sigh, and say out loud "wow." This book is THAT good.
What makes this book the outstanding book that it is its plot, character development, symbolism, and its realism. During the book, Tim O'Brien creates a plot that is indefinable. The majority of the book feels like a climax, and the adventure and excitement of the book never ends. The plot of the book alone is enough to make it place under the category of 'Outstanding.' Character development in this book also plays a huge part. Through out the novel author Tim O'Brien is constantly building up characters and their credibility. Large descriptions along with information about each character such as previous life before the war, as well as stories about them during the war. This is important in the book because it allows for every single character to be interesting and exciting to read about. It contributes a lot to the quality of this book. It is hard to tell whether or not symbolism exists in this novel, but then again, when doesn't symbolism exist. A good example of symbolism exists in the story about Mark Fossie's girlfriend. She symbolizes everything good about the United States. And when she comes to Vietnam, and learns how to operate on wounded soldiers, shoot, and fight in combat, and changes her completely. This entire story represents how thousands of young teenagers have been sent to Vietnam to become soldiers, but in the end have been corrupted by everything that happens. What also makes The Things They Carried so outstanding, is its legendary realism. Even though the book is listed as fiction, all the stories and all the chapters are written from a person who had experienced it all, and this person, Tim O'Brien recreates a war novel that is so real to the reader that it is stomach churning. The combination of these elements, and others as well donate to why The Things They Carried, a novel written by Tim O'Brien, is so outstanding.

"I'm skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story" (O'Brien 246).

Links related to this wiki:Important quotes from The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried Video
A Farewell to Arms--similar genre
The Return of the King--similar genre

Works Cited

O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Boston: Broadway Books, 1990.

"About Tim O'Brien" Illyria.com. 31 Aug. 2004. 22 Mar. 2009.

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