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The vietnam war and the novel the things they carried by tim obrien

The story of a war must be a large story, no?

From the Iliad to War and Peace, from Wings to Apocalypse Now, those who have tried to present a coherent narrative of armed conflict have invariably found their accounts bursting at the seams. And even after the final page, we are frequently left with the uneasy sense that only a small microcosm of reality has managed to step forth from the battlefield and testify.

So much remains mute, buried, forgotten. And the Vietnam War, which respected no boundaries—whether in Southeast Asia or back on the home front— presents special challenges to the teller of tales. Where do you draw the line? The genocide in Cambodia? The Kent State shootings? The military action on the ground provides just the opening spiral in the widening concentric circles that still twist and turn, in varying ways, even today. The Things They Carried belongs on any short list of great war fiction, and is one of the most compelling books yet written about the Vietnam experience.

The very substance of this book operates on a micro-scale. P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water.

In many instances, the items are small enough to fit into a pocket. This litany of the little, which takes up the opening 25 pages of The Things They Carried, could serve as a case study for wannabe writers on the disproportionate power of the telling detail in narrative fiction. This book breaks the rules of war fiction in many other ways. For a battlefield book, there is little actual combat, but this too enhances the verisimilitude.

Flashes of gunfire from hidden places, land mines and other impersonal dangers can prove no less fatal than a flesh-and-blood assailant.

  1. So much remains mute, buried, forgotten. 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.
  2. The area is so isolated that one of the soldiers flies his hometown girlfriend in by helicopter. Reception[ edit ] The Things They Carried has received critical acclaim and has been established as one of the preeminent pieces of Vietnam War literature.
  3. 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.

It is one of the defining characteristics of this book that its most memorable combat death comes when a character, the gentle Native American soldier Kiowa, sinks into the muck of a sewage field in the midst of a mortar attack. The author as character is a familiar post-modern ploy, and usually imparts a sense of playful experimentalism to the proceedings.

That was breaking the rules of fiction, and just wasn't cricket, according to the older scribe. For once, the realism and intensity of the underlying narrative are reinforced by the authorial intervention, and nothing could seem like less of a gimmick than the writer actually being there when ugly things start happening.

As these remarks no doubt make clear, The Things They Carried does not fall easily into the typical pigeonholes.

  1. O'Brien asks if he can write a story about Cross, expressing his memories and hopes for the future; Cross agrees, thinking that perhaps Martha will read it and come find him.
  2. Bob "Rat" Kiley A young medic whose exaggerations are complemented by his occasional cruelty.
  3. He later believes that his obsession led to the death of Ted Lavender. No one questions his bravery.
  4. Kiowa often helps other soldiers deal with their own actions, such as taking the lives of other human beings. Azar A young, rather unstable soldier who engages in needless and frequent acts of brutality; in one story, he blows up an orphan puppy that Ted Lavender had adopted by strapping it to a Claymore mine , then detonating it.
  5. This book breaks the rules of war fiction in many other ways. He concludes that, in the end, the truth of a story doesn't matter so much as what the story is trying to say.

It is not memoir, although it has many of the qualities of autobiography. It is not quite a novel, although the same characters and themes reappear in the different stories that constitute the book. It is hardly non-fiction, although it comes across as a reenactment of real historical events. The author mixes in shifts of chronology and geography that further disrupt the narrative flow.

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Yet these exceptions to familiar formulas all work to further the power of the finished product. If anything, The Things They Carried will remind you less of other war books or movies, but rather will bring to mind the actual Vietnam vets you may have encountered in your life. Imagine you have just settled down next to a troubled former soldier at the local bar, and after a few drinks he decides to tell you the real inside stuff about what went down in Southeast Asia—a little rambling perhaps, and likely to focus on the small things instead of geopolitics, but intensely vivid and believable.