How to Tell a True War Story

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Philip Hotchkiss
Intro to Literature
Short Story Analysis Paper
October 5, 2009

“How to Tell a True War Story”

I found “How to Tell a True War Story” the most interesting short story we have read so far. Why? Because the story is true and so very real. The story paints such a vivid picture of war and what effects it has on the many men involved. The people are real people, the events are real events, and the story is a real story. It really drives home the point because war is such a big part of life today in which it is always going on. War is part of our past, we are in a war right now, and I’m sure we will have war in the future. It is almost inevitable in ones lifetime to not witness a war which is another reason why it hits so close to home and is so real.

“How to Tell a True War Story” was written by Tim O’Brien. O’Brien served in the Vietnam War after being drafted. His works are highly influenced by this time of service. Not only is he telling the stories of these actual men he is also revealing his own feelings along the way. We see this in the pare of the story when he is talking about Rat’s letter. Rat sends a very elaborate and heartfelt letter to his best friend’s sister who was killed at war. This is where O’Brien’s feelings are first shown in his story. The sister of the fallen soldier never writes Rat back after all the effort and emotion that he put into it. O’Brien reacts in the way of calling the man’s sister a ‘cooze’. He mentions everything about the letter and all the feelings that were put into it and seems disgusted and frustrated with this woman and how she did not even have the decency to respond to such a letter. Also the fact that it was from her brother’s best friend and she still did not feel compelled to send something back. However, this also raises a question. How do O’Brien and Rat know that this woman ever received the letter? We are not told that she receives the letter we are just left and it is natural to assume that she received the letter and chose not to respond.

Something that really stuck out to me in this story were the characters. They are the kind of people you run into on your normal day activities. The intriguing thing is that it shows what the human being does and how a person reacts when pushed to the brink and when their back is against the wall. This was shown at two key parts in the story.

The first example of these almost psychological breakdowns occurs during the story telling of Mitchell Sanders to O’Brien. The story began with a six-man party that was to go up into the mountains to listen for enemy movement. They were ordered to be completely silent, not a sound among them unless they heard something which they then were supposed to radio back to base and let them no where to drop the bombs and heavy artillery. Sanders made it a great point to make sure that O’Brien knew that they were supposed to be invisible. They remained silent for one week and it is hard to imagine just being there and not to have made a sound among them. This just seemed to be asking for a mental breakdown. There they laid however for seven days. They were located in the mountains and it is an erie description of them being there. Sanders went deeper in detail mentioning a certain type of fog that just settled over the mountains. This fog was always there. It was as if a blanket was covering them or as it was raining cause everything was wet but no rain and the other thing was that they could not see their hand in front of their face. (pg.545) It was as if they had no eyes or ears for a week straight. One can imagine the kind of games your mind would begin to play. Eventually they begin to hear music and various voices. (pg.545) They thought it was the rock talking, but not only the rock the fog seemed to be talking too. (pg.545) You can assume that they started to freak out and eventually it got bad enough to where they called it into base and the mountains got lit up by the...
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