Throughout his novel, the things The Carried, author Tim O’Brien uses a plethora of strategies to give the reader a deeper incite into the day to day life of an American ground soldier during the Vietnam War. O’ Brian shares with us his extensive knowledge and first hand experiences throughout the novel. Being a veteran of the Vietnam War helps O ‘Brian gives us a look into American’s longest war, not often given. Aside from recalling past events, he uses many unique techniques that we may be less used to. The first is the use of characters and objects as representations. This is one of the tactics most often used in the book.
Another way that O ‘Brian uses rliterature to emphasize a point is the use of meta-fiction. This is basically telling the truth in a lie. Lastly, his knowledge and experiences add another dimension to this book that can really engage the reader. All of these components working together are what has mad the Things They Carried, such a critically acclaimed book. I have found that a good strategy to use when reading this book, is to remember that often times things are not what they seem. The book was filled with figurative language and representation the O ‘Brien uses to emphasizes and support his points.
This strategy is used with both people and objects. In the book, there are characters that O ‘Brian tells us that he served with in the war, but in interviews told people that he fictionalized them to emphasize his point. An example of this would be Mark Fossie’s girlfriend Mary Ann Belle who visits the men in Vietnam. She is the classic example of the “American girl”. “ A tall, big-boned blonde. AT best, Rat said, she was seventeen years old, fresh out of Cleveland Heights Senior High School. She had long, white legs and blue eyes and complexion like strawberry ice cream. Very friendly, too. She is a representation of what all them men left behind when the joined the war.
The young, attractive, and vibrant girl is a dramatic contrast to the death and destruction that they are forced to endure everyday. As time goes on and Mary spends all of her time in a war zone surrounded by men, there is a dramatic change in her character and personality. She starts to embrace the death and carnage that the war zone is filled with. “Everything I want, is right here. ” –Mary. Legend says that she disappeared into the black of the jungle, never to be heard from again. This experience shatters Mark Fossie’s erception of Mary as a harmless beauty, which was a thought he would use to escape from the horrors of war.
Another example of this use of characters are more than a character to add to the plot is O ‘Brian’s daughter Kathleen. She, much like Mary, is young and naive. Although to the naked eye she would appear to be nothing more than a little girl, she actually represents how war has affected the soldiers. She may show Tim what he was, pre-war and how being sent to the front lines at such a young age can turn anyone to a little girl. Meta-fiction is one of my favorite literary devices. It is essentially the use of lies to tell the truth.
This may sound contradictory but in certain cases, there is not factual information or, “truth” to support your point. An example of this from “the Things They Carried” would be the scene where Kiowa died. This event never actually never happened during O ‘Brian’s service despite the fact that he tells it this way. This is because as far as the message that the author is trying to tell us about the Vietnam War, Kiowa’s death represents more than just a soldier dying in battle. “Kiowa was gone. He was under the mud and water, folded in with the war. ” He may have known many men that died in combat but none in a way that is this representative.
The mud and water where he sunk into and eventually died represents the way that the war can bog someone down. Whether you die in combat or not, a piece of your is almost left on the battle field. This is the point that O ‘Brian is trying to make. Another example of meta-fiction was the entire chapter titled, “The Man I Killed”. In this chapter, the young Tim O ‘Brian shorts a man in the face. After, the kill, he goes over and inspects the dead body. He inspects it from head to toe, paying special attention to the star shaped bullet wound where the victim’s eye should have been.
Again, while one may just assume that this is just the author talking about a man he killed, but in this situation, this never even happened. In fact, O ‘Brian tells us that he never even saw any of the men that he killed. He was to s cared to “see a life ended by his trigger”. He inserts this chapter because this is how he imagines seeing a man that you killed you feel, and look like. Even if he had looked at the man he had killed, the real experience may not have captured all the emotions that this fictionalized scenario would.
This is a tactic used by writers because these cenarios that they create can capture emotions and powerful moments that may not have happened but still feel real. The more knowledge and author has on a given subject usually results in a better final product. O ‘Brian’s personal experiences in the Vietnam War assures us that the stories and information we are receiving is as first hand as it comes. Rather than just reciting dates and facts like a history textbook, he shares with us what it was actually like to be risking your life in the field. While some of the stories he tells are admittedly fictionalized, most are not.
Even those that are often are based on some fact or true event. Tim O ‘ Brian’s personal experiences help him in achieving his goal of giving us a look into the day to day life of a foot soldier in Vietnam. All of these devises utilizes by O ‘Brian help make the Things They Carried one of the best war books that I have ever read. Symbolism, meta-fiction, and personal experience help give the reader a more personal look into America’s longest war. I believe that Tim O ‘Brian was very successful in accomplishing his goal of giving readers an in depth look into a war that is often not talked about for what happened on the battle field.
Courtney from Study Moose
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