Literary Analysis of “The Things They Carried”

‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien is a powerful blend of fact and fiction linked to leave the reader with a lasting impression of fear, love, and gratitude for the novel’s components. When describing the tangibles, O’Brien incorporates weight and number to force the pressures of the soldiers onto the reader.

As various events unfold, O’Brien moves the reader through scenes of war, telling various stories of love, death and friendships combining to a narrative. More specifically, O’Brien incorporates interruptions of himself talking to us – like the reader is watching a movie and he keeps pressing pause to explain a scene that we might not have fully grasped. In this paper, literary analysis of this novel will be presented to reveal the significance of the act of ‘listening’ to its reader.

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As revealed in this novel, O’Brien takes the reader through a series of repeated utterances as depicted through cyclic stories of love, war and death vividly, engaging the reader into an active session of movie-like scene. More importantly, several pauses are encountered throughout the story, as the author tries to explain some instances which the reader may not have otherwise understood.

Throughout the book, O’Brien tells the audience about war stories, in which some instances remain doubtful about their validity. For instance, Tim’s war story makes the reader to render it invalid when he says the stories are mere imaginations: “The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you…..memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head….. There is the illusion of aliveness…..” (O’Brien 230).

As O’Brien reveals to the reader various scenarios telling stories of death and friendship, warfare conditions and love relationships, he incorporates disruption of himself talking to the audience as if they are watching a film. It is the author’s confusing blend of fact and fiction which takes the reader into an in-depth understanding the underlying implication of his work. Particularly, the novel sounds more to a narrative than story which is told through soldier Tim, where every twinge is factual beyond reality.

Particularly, O’Brien engrosses the reader into an active listening-like session through his utterances of vivid description of war scenarios, making the novel more involving than just mere story telling. For instance, “If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste…then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie…” (O’Brien 68).

As it has been noted, O’Brien presents very serious events in fiction as a strategy to emphasize how serious the situation was during the time of the war. With regard to the novel’s title, the soldiers are brought out having a variety of objects and practices they carried in foreign land they went for a war. As O’ Brien (82) utters “…It’s safe to say that in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true… Sometimes war is beautiful, sometimes it’s horrible…” there appears to be pain and happiness in war.

Though this narration may seem confusing, they take the reader into inner revelation of how the soldiers were undergoing a blend of experiences in which some made them happy while other saddened them. As a result, most of the unfolding in this novel ends up engaging the reader into active listening scenarios which facilitate deeper understanding of the underlying issues.

As it is noted, O’Brien takes the readers through a story of his current self, which seems more a story than a real experience. His frequent questioning of the definition of a ‘true story’ and what truth implies in any story engages the reader into active sessions of listening to his utterances. At the same time, the author engages the reader into description of the various deaths of his champions in a repetition manner.

For instance O’Brien (129) describes the shape of the dead man’s eye more than five times in the previous chapters. A vivid account of the author’s remarks on various events through his repetition tendency to engage the reader into active unfolding of his intentions to write the novel emerges as a film like presentation, since it requires close attention of his utterances. By so doing, O’Brien succeeds in engaging his audience in active sessions through his blend of stylistic devises to present various ideas.

In addition, O’Brien seems to exaggerate in his vivid accounts of the experience the soldiers in the war. Through describing the war in various dimensions, the author leaves the readers feeling burdened with hardships and turmoil that his soldiers were undergoing, though some doubt about its actual existence remains an eminent issue to his audience.

As O’Brien (75) reveals, “….and the whole war is right there in that stare. It says everything you can’t ever say…” the warfare situation seems tough and unbearable among the soldiers, since some end up being killed with other brutalized in various ways. Particularly, the act of listening in most of the author’s utterances seems quite important in the sense that, it provides the reader with vivid account of the happenings presented in this novel.

While describing the tangibles, O’Brien describes the entire scenario of how each soldier was armed with a variety of objects as they set for the war. It is the force and the weight of the flamboyant explanation of the setting to the war by the soldiers that engages the reader into more active participation in the entire scene.

For instance, “…every third or fourth person carried a Claymore antipersonnel mine – 3.5 pounds with its firing device…they carried fragmentation of grenades – 14 ounces each…they all carried at least one M-18 colored smoke grenade – 24 ounces…” (O’Brien 7).

Quite significantly, the use of repetition in this extract seems to engross the reader into more precise account of the actual setting of the soldiers into the war. This leaves the reader into active listening of the utterances of the author as he tries to bring into attention how much the soldiers were prepared for the war.

Generally, the act of listening in this novel is quite important in the sense that, it provides the reader with deeper revelation of the utterances presented by O’Brien. More so, close following of the stories told by the author through the act of listening unveils the real nature of the scenes despite seeming like a blend of fiction and reality. On this basis therefore, O’Brien succeeds in facilitating activeness among his audience through his use of varying stylistic devises to present his ideas in a unique manner.

Work Cited

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway Publisher, 1998.


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