The Things They CarriedTim O’Brien is anAmericannovelistwell known for writing about theVietnam Warand the impact it had on the American soldiers who fought there. He won the U.S.National Book Award for Fictionin 1979 for the Vietnam novelGoing After Cacciato.However, his best known work of fiction is the critically acclaimed The Things They Carried, a collection of semi-autobiographical, inter-related short-stories inspired by O’Brien’s wartime experiences in Vietnam. O’Brien has held the endowed chair at theMFA programofTexas State University-San Marcosseveral times, from 2003 to 2004, then from 2005 to 2006, and a third time from 2008 to 2009.
Upon completing his tour of duty, O’Brien went on tograduate schoolatHarvard Universityand received aninternshipat theWashington Post. His writing career was launched in 1973 with the release ofIf I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, about his war experiences. In this memoir, O’Brien writes: “Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories.”One attribute in O’Brien’s work is the blur betweenfictionandreality; labeled “Verisimilitude,” 真实性, 逼真性his work contains actual details of the situations he experienced. Although this is a common literary technique, his conscious, explicit, and metafictional approach to the distinction between fact and fiction is a unique component of his writing style. In the chapter “Good Form” inThe Things They Carried, O’Brien casts a distinction between “story-truth” (the truth of fiction) and “happening-truth” (the truth of fact or occurrence), writing that “story-truth is sometimes truer than happening-truth.” Story truth is emotional truth; thus the feeling created by a fictional story is sometimes truer than what results from reading the facts. Certain sets of stories in The Things They Carriedseem to contradict each other, and certain stories are designed to “undo” the suspension of disbelief created in previous stories; for example, “Speaking of Courage” is followed by “Notes”, which explains in what ways “Speaking of Courage” is fictional.O’Brien won the 1979National Book AwardforGoing After Cacciato.His novelIn the Lake of the Woodswon theJames Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fictionin 1995. His most recent novel isJuly, July.In August 2012, O’Brien received theDayton Literary Peace Prizelifetime achievement award. O’Brien’s papers are housed at theHarry Ransom Centerat theUniversity of Texas at Austin.O’Brien writes and lives in central Texas, where he raises his young sons and teaches full-time every other year atTexas State University–San Marcos. In alternate years, he teaches several workshops to MFA students in the creative writing program.内容One of the first questions people ask about The Things They Carried is this: Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories? The title page refers to the book simply as “a work of fiction,” defying the conscientious reader s need to categorize this masterpiece. It is both: a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dramatic force and tension of a novel. Yet each one of the twenty-two short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own.The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves. With the creative verve of the greatest fiction and the intimacy of a searing autobiography, The Things They Carried is a testament to the men who risked their lives in America s most controversial war. It is also a mirror held up to the frailty of humanity. Ultimately The Things They Carried and its myriad protagonists call to order the courage, determination, and luck we all need to survive. The Things They Carried is a collection of related storiesby Tim O’Brien, about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War, originally published in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin in 1990. The Things They Carried employs heavy use of Metafiction, as O’Brien has stated his belief that truth can be more effectively communicated that way.  Many of the characters are semi-autobiographical, and readers of O’Brien’s work will notice that some of the characters share similarities with characters from his memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. O’Brien dedicated The Things They Carried to the men of the Alpha Company with whom he fought during the war.Writing Style The Things They Carried works heavily with metafiction超小说, employing a writing tactic called Verisimilitude, a style that meshes the factional with the fictional. This helps distinguish O’Brien’s literary approach from other authors. The Things They Carried is presented as fiction, but is couched in O’Brien’s experiences, lending credence to the events told in the book.Tim O’Brien Author of the story. His personal experiences in the war led him to write a book about it. He believes that some things cannot be explained at all. For example, he eventually reveals, but can not say that Kiowa’s death was his fault. While modeled after the author and sharing the same name, O’Brien is a fictional character and not the author. The author intentionally blurs this distinction. Lt. Jimmy Cross ‘s character represents the profound effects responsibility has on those who are too immature to handle it. As a sophomore in college, he signs up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps because it is worth a few credits and because his friends are doing it. But he doesn’t care about the war and has no desire to be a team leader. As a result, when he is led into battle with several men in his charge, he is unsure in everything he does.Cross’s guilt is palpable every time one of his men dies, but it is most acute in the case of Ted Lavender. Right before Lavender is killed, Cross allows himself to be distracted and deluded by the thoughts of his coveted classmate, Martha, who sends him photographs and writes flowery letters that never mention the war. His innocent reverie is interrupted by Lavender’s death, and Cross’s only conclusion is that he loves this faraway girl more than he loves his men. Cross’s confession to O’Brien, years later, that he has never forgiven himself for Lavender’s death testifies to his intense feelings of guilt about the incident.Jimmy Cross can be viewed as a Christ figure. In times of inexplicable atrocity, certain individuals assume the position of a group’s or their own savior. Such men suffer so that others don’t have to bear the brunt of the guilt and confusion. Cross is linked to Christ not only on a superficial level—they share initials and are both connected to the idea of the cross—but also in the nature of his role. Like Christ, who suffers for his fellow men, Cross suffers for the sake of the entire platoon. In “The Things They Carried,” Cross bears the grief of Lavender’s death for the members of his troop, such as Kiowa, who are too dumbfounded to mourn. In the same story, he makes a personal sacrifice, burning the letters from Martha so that her presence will no longer distract him. In each case, Cross makes a Christ-like sacrifice so that his fellow men—Norman Bowker and Kiowa, in this case—can carry on without being crippled by grief and guilt. Cross is the platoon leader. He is obsessed with a young woman back home, Martha (who does not return his feelings), and later believes that his obsession led to the death of Ted Lavender. In the short story “In the Field”, he also decides to camp the team one day on the “shitfield” (a sewage field), which leads to Kiowa’s death. Bob “Rat” Kiley A young medic whose exaggerations are complemented by his occasional cruelty, which is displayed in “How to Tell a True War Story”, in which he tortures a baby water buffalo after the death of his friend, Curt Lemon. He enjoys comic books. Eventually, he sees too much gore and begins to go insane as he imagines “the bugs are out to get [him]”. He cannot adjust to the new procedure of sleeping during the day, and moving at night. Finally losing it, Rat “dope[s] himself up” and shoots himself in the foot, which pulls him out of service. Norman Bowker A soldier who O’Brien says attempted to save Kiowa the night he died. When Kiowa slips into the “shitfield”, Bowker repeatedly tries to save him but is unable to; as a result, he feels guilty for Kiowa’s death after the war. His memories continue to haunt Norman at home as he realizes that the world has moved on from the war, and wants nothing to do with the “hell” in Vietnam. He is continually haunted by the fact that he could not save Kiowa from sinking under the “shitfield” on a rainy night. However, O’Brien admits eventually that it was not Norman who failed to save Kiowa, but himself. After the war he briefly assists O’Brien in writing a story about Vietnam, but he hangs himself with a jump rope in an Iowa YMCA facility, leaving no note and his family shocked. Henry Dobbins Machine gunner. A man who, despite having a rather large frame, is gentle and kind. He is very superstitious; as a result, he wears his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck as a protective “charm”, even after she dumps him. He briefly contemplates becoming a monk after the war due to their acts of charity. Kiowa
KiowaIn life, Kiowa is diligent and honest, introspective and compassionate. He is practical, carrying moccasins in order to be able to walk silently and helping his fellow soldiers to rationalize their own unfortunate actions, especially O’Brien’s killing of a young Vietnamese soldier. A Baptist and a Native American, he brings a perspective different from that of his fellow soldiers to the unfortunate events that befall the Alpha Company.Kiowa’s death is symbolic of the senseless tragedy of war. He dies in a gruesome way, drowning under the muck of a sewage field about which his lieutenant, Jimmy Cross, has a bad feeling. Kiowa’s entirely submerged body represents the transitory nature of life and the horrifying suddenness with which it can be snatched away. There is no dignity to Kiowa’s death; he becomes another casualty in a war that strips men of their identity and turns them into statistics. A compassionate and talkative soldier; he demonstrates the importance of talking about one’s problems and traumatic experiences. He is also a devout Baptist and a Native American that occasionally feels contempt and distrust towards white people. However, he appears to be Tim O’Brien’s best friend in the company. Kiowa often helps other soldiers deal with their own actions, such as taking the lives of other human beings. He is eventually killed when camping out in the “shitfield”. Mitchell Sanders He is the radiotelephone operator for the platoon. Like O’Brien, he is also a storyteller and is portrayed as a mentor. Ted Lavender A grenadier. He dies in “The Things They Carried” from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. He is notorious for using tranquilizers to cope with the pain of war, and for carrying a (rather large—six to eight ounces) stash of “premium dope”with him. Cross blames himself for Lavender’s death, as he was fantasizing about Martha when Lavender was shot. Curt Lemon A young man that frequently attempts to assume the role as a tough soldier. However, he is also good friend of Rat Kiley. Lemon dies after setting off a rigged artillery shell. In one of the book’s more disturbing scenes, O’Brien and Dave Jensen help clear the trees of Curt’s scattered remains, during which Jensen sings “Lemon Tree” (something that “wakes me [Tim] up”). After Lemon dies, Kiley writes a long, eloquent letter to Lemon’s sister, describing his friendship with Lemon and emphasizing how good a person Lemon was; Lemon’s sister never responds, which crushes Kiley emotionally. Azar A young, rather unstable soldier who engages in needless and frequent acts of brutality; in one story, he blows up a dog that Ted Lavender had adopted by strapping it to a Claymore mine, then detonating it. He also aids Tim O’Brien in gaining revenge on Bobby Jorgenson, but mocks O’Brien when he’s not willing to take the revenge further. At one point, Azar breaks down emotionally, revealing that his cruelty is merely a defense mechanism. Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk Minor soldiers who are the main characters of “Enemies” and “Friends”. Jensen fights with Strunk over a stolen jackknife, but they became uneasy friends afterwards. They each sign a pact to kill the other if he is ever faced with a “wheelchair wound”. After Strunk steps on a rigged mortar round and loses a leg, he begs Jensen not to kill him. Jensen obliges, but seems to have an enormous weight relieved when he learns “Strunk died somewhere over in Chu Lai”. Jensen is sometimes mentioned singing “Lemon Tree” after Curt Lemon’s abrupt death. Jensen also appears in “The Lives of the Dead”, where he pressures O’Brien to shake hands with a dead Vietnamese. Martha – Cross’s romantic love, though she has only platonic feelings for him. He burns her letters and photos while trying to get over the guilt he feels for being responsible for Ted Lavender’s death. Theme
In the short story “Good Form”, the narrator makes a distinction between “story truth” and “happening truth”. O’Brien feels that the idea of creating a story that is technically false yet truthfully portrays war, as opposed to just stating the facts and creating no emotion in the reader, is the correct way to clear his conscience and tell the story of thousands of soldiers. Critics often cite this distinction when commenting on O’Brien’s artistic aims in The Things They Carried and, in general, all of his fiction about Vietnam, claiming that O’Brien feels that the realities of the Vietnam War are best explored in fictional form rather than the presentation of precise facts. O’Brien’s fluid and elliptical negotiation of truth in this context finds echoes in works labeled as ‘non-fiction novels’. The fine line of what constitutes fiction versus non-fiction is blurred throughout the book, for though Tim O’Brien claims this book to be fiction, the author and the protagonist share the same name and same profession as writers. Additionally, the character Tim references writing the book “Going After Cacciato” which the author Tim had written and published previously.