Commentary How to Tell True War Story

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Bamdad Attarn
IB HL English

The Things They Carried Commentary: How to Tell a True War Story

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a work of metafiction that manages to test fiction in its very nature through the chapter, “How to Tell a True War Story.” The blurred line between reality and the imagination is explored by the given account—the reader is alienated and forced to think, does the truth matter in a war story? This chapter alternates in narration between O’Brien as a soldier and as a storyteller, examines the duplicity of whether story truth or happening truth is more vital, and explores the reactions which listeners and readers alike are to gather from these stories. O’Brien opens the chapter with three powerful words which set the tone for his debate throughout the chapter, “This is true.” (O’Brien 67). Narration of this chapter continues in first person where O’Brien narrates a story, analyzes its validity, and moves on to tell another aspect of the story, taking it apart. This syntax makes the reader feel interrupted and disoriented. You have barely had time to absorb the heartbreaking story before O’Brien switches gears, saying, “A true war story is never moral” (68). He sets qualifications for true war stories—“absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil” (69) and manages to clarify in his next pause in storytelling warning that “it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen” and acknowledges people perceive things differently and thus will tell the stories differently (71). The stories are told with beautiful figurative language-personification, imagery, “war has the feel…of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent. There is no clarity. Everything swirls,” and metaphor, in a tone where the reader is easily sucked in, only to be jarred awake with the factual and almost conversational tone of O’Brien’s analyses. To put things in context, the previous chapter, “Friends”,...
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